Breastfeeding: Preventing sore nipples

Preventing sore nipples is key to getting your breastfeeding journey off to a good start.

A baby being held by its mother.

Getting started with breastfeeding can be a challenge.  One of the biggest reasons many women stop breastfeeding early on is sore nipples. It is important for a mother to master proper positioning and latch of the baby early in the breastfeeding journey to prevent nipple soreness. 

Proper positioning and latching are very important for preventing sore nipples. There are other important steps that can be taken to prevent problems with soreness. Using bottles or pacifiers in the first two weeks may teach the baby incorrect sucking patterns. Incorrect sucking patterns can lead to sore nipples. These patterns can lead to babies not having their tongue in a proper position which does not allow for a deep latch. A shallow latch causes the nipple to be crushed between the hard palate or gums, leading to nipple trauma. It is very important to correct a poor latch early.

Sometimes the cause of the poor latch is that the baby is tongue tied. Check that you baby’s tongue can reach beyond the lower lip and that the tongue does not form a heart shape. If you are struggling with latch and see this in your baby, contact your health care provider to see how it can be addressed.

Sometimes the shape of the nipple can also lead to issues with latching. Flat or inverted nipples often lead to babies having a hard time achieving a proper latch. Sometimes the use of a pump can be helpful in drawing an inverted nipple out. The fluids received during labor can cause edema in the breast, which can also cause difficulties for the nursing dyad. The use of a technique called reverse pressure softening can be helpful in dealing with this breast swelling from the fluids as well as when milk first comes in and breasts are engorged.

Using fragrant lotions or soaps on your breasts is not recommended. These may irritate your nipples and be harmful or taste bad to your baby. It is important to break the suction your baby’s mouth creates on your breast before you take your baby off your breast. Break the suction by gently sliding your finger between you baby’s gums at the corner of his mouth. Leave your finger between you baby’s gums until he is off the breast.  Also, a pump that doesn’t fit well or that applies too much suction will cause nipple trauma. Following these steps will reduce the risk of developing sore nipples.       

The best treatment for sore nipples is prevention. Ensure a good positioning and latch at every feeding.  Keep the fabric closest to your breast clean and dry. Hand express some milk or use a breast pump before the baby latches if your breasts are full or engorged. This will make your breast softer so your baby can latch on better. Check with a breastfeeding support person or health care professional for more suggestions.

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