Damaged, cracked and bleeding nipples can be horribly traumatic for a breastfeeding Mother. There is risk of infection and it can make feeding into a stressful ordeal.
What are the causes?
Baby not latching to the breast properly is the cause of nipple damage and here are some reasons the latch may not be right:
Positioning and attachment
This is the most common cause as you’re learning a new skill. It takes time to master and remember your baby is learning too.
Check the positioning and attachment articles to see if this is the problem.
When your milk first comes in, your breasts increase in size and become quite hard. Latching can be a challenge as it’s difficult for your baby to get a grip. Try hand expressing a little milk prior to a feed. This softens the breast and makes it easier for your baby to latch on.
If you are struggling to latch your baby comfortably, check our tongue tie article and learn the signs and symptoms to see if this could be the problem.
If you have never breastfed before then it can be pretty hardcore to begin with and even one poor latch can lead to damage.
The good news is it tends to get better as your nipples toughen up over time.
Flat or inverted nipples, can also cause latching problems and this could lead to damaged nipples too. Check our information on flat or inverted nipples for suggestions.
If you’re struggling, get a breastfeeding expert to check the latch ASAP to prevent further damage. Note that although the above list is not exhaustive, the problem is usually rectified fairly easily leaving a happy breastfeeding Mother.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR NIPPLES ARE DAMAGED:
As soon as you notice any damage, or if you feel your baby is biting, pinching or chewing your nipple during a feed, take baby off the breast by breaking the seal using a little finger hooked into the side of your baby’s cheek to release the suction.
If you’re in hospital call someone to help you. If at home, give baby to Dad or Grandma whilst you check our positioning and attachment article. Have someone go though it with you so they can help you.
If the damage is already done and you are grimacing at the thought of putting baby to the breast here are some suggestions:
* If you can continue to feed from the breast without further damage, this is the best option. Try putting an ice cube wrapped in a muslin on your nipple prior to the feed. This helps combat the initial pain during latching.
* If you continue to feel pain after 30 seconds and you think the damage is worsening, you may need to rest the damaged nipple for a while and do some expressing instead. Seek advice from a breastfeeding specialist to make a plan. This is important as you want to prevent your milk supply being affected and you don’t want to end up with blocked ducts.
* Keep the damaged nipple clean (use saline solution after feeding).
* Have some time with your breasts out. This allows air to get to the nipple and helps them to heal.
* Use a small amount of nipple cream designed for breastfeeding to retain moisture.
* Squeeze a small amount of breastmilk onto the nipple and rub it in. Breastmilk has antiseptic and healing properties.
* In order to prevent thrush and infections ensure good hygiene. Change breast pads every time they get wet.
* Wear good fitting comfortable cotton breastfeeding bras. Clean each day and wash at a high temperature.
* If breasts become lumpy check our engorgement and mastitis article.
* Ibuprofen and paracetamol will help with pain and inflammation. These are safe during breastfeeding but you must check with your GP, pharmacist or Midwife first before taking any medications.
PLEASE NOTE: Be very wary of using nipple shields as they can lead to further problems. Get advice from a breastfeeding specialist first.