A common difficulty for many new mothers, whether they breastfeed exclusively, pump exclusively, or do a mix of both, is sore nipples. There are many possible reasons for sore nipples, which means there are also many ways to prevent and soothe nipple soreness.
As a new parent, there’s a bit of a learning curve, even with things that seem like they should come naturally, like breastfeeding. Even though your breast pump may come with instructions, it’ll probably take some time before you figure out your groove.
What can you do to prevent or soothe nipple soreness? Well, first, we’ll have to figure out the potential cause, and then we can help you find out how to do it.
Is Soreness Normal?
Sometimes, you may experience nipple soreness or pain for a couple of minutes, which can be normal. Usually, the soreness occurs at the beginning of a pumping or nursing session.
If it’s during a pumping session, it might mean the collagen fibers in your nipples are stretching. It should only last for ten to 15 seconds. You may also experience some tenderness as well.
If you experience discomfort at the beginning of a nursing session, it could be your breasts getting used to the sensation, but it should go away after a few seconds. If the discomfort continues, you may need to adjust your baby’s latch.
What Can Cause Nipple Soreness?
There are lots of reasons that you may experience breast or nipple pain. Some of these tend to be associated with pumping more than breastfeeding or vice versa, while others can occur with both.
Discomfort caused by pumps can be due to a couple of different things, although primarily, it’s because the pump is being used incorrectly.
A common cause is that you’re using the incorrect pump flange size, which is the funnel or breast shield that goes over the nipple. If the flange is too big, areola and breast tissue could be pulled into the tunnel part, this is the most common issue. If the flange is too small, your nipple will swell in the tunnel and chafe or blister. Both of these issues can cause soreness and many other problems.
Check that you have the right flange size. If you experience pain, discomfort, or decreased milk production, check that you have the correct size. Your brand’s flange fitting guide will be your best friend when figuring out if you need a different size. Check often, as size can fluctuate throughout your journey.
Another potential issue is the strength of the suction. It’s best to start with a low suction and, once your milk starts to leak, slowly up the strength of the suction. If your nipples begin to hurt, you’ll probably want to try lowering the suction strength. To find your optimal speed and suction, try an electric pump like the BabyBuddha® Portable Pump has 15 different modes to help you find the one that works best for you.
The most common cause of soreness from breastfeeding is an improper latch. When your baby doesn’t have a good latch, your nipple won’t be far enough in your baby’s mouth. Then, as your little one nurses, the nipple will rub against the hard palate on the roof of your baby’s mouth, leading to irritation.
Sometimes, you’ll feel like your baby is pinching your nipple, but it can also cause cracked, blistered, and even bleeding nipples. It will also make it tricky for your baby to get enough milk, which leads to longer nursing sessions.
Other Causes of Breast Pain
If you’re experiencing general pain in your breasts, you may have other issues to address. These potential issues are:
- Plugged ducts, where the milk ducts are plugged
- Engorgement, over-full breasts due to irregular feedings
- Oral thrush, a type of yeast infection
- Mastitis, a breast infection
- Flat nipples
- Inverted nipples
How Can I Soothe Nipple Soreness?
If you’re experiencing nipple soreness, there are a couple of things you can do. With some care and patience, hopefully, you’ll be feeling better soon.
In general, make sure that your hands and pumping equipment are clean. This can prevent potential infections, especially if your nipples are cracked or they have blisters (also called blebs). It should also help clean your breasts with water once daily and pat them dry.
If you’re having difficulty with sore and cracked nipples, talking with your lactation consultant or another healthcare provider may also be helpful.
The best solution for soreness from breast pumps is to make sure you have the correct flange size. One way to do this is by measuring your nipple size. In fact, if your nipple is as wide as a nickel, you probably need a larger size. There should be a small amount of air space around your nipple.
It’s essential to figure out the right suction strength for you. As we mentioned before, you’ll want to start out slowly and adjust as you go along.
Since an improper latch is the cause of most breastfeeding nipple pain, you’ll want to figure out how to help your little one learn to latch. When your baby is latched, your entire areola and nipple should be in your baby’s mouth.
Sometimes, this problem will only happen during the early days after your baby’s birth. After all, you’re both learning how to breastfeed. If it continues after a few weeks, you’ll want to talk to a healthcare provider.
It’s best to start out on the breast that is the least affected, and it can also help to switch nursing positions. That way, you may not experience as much pain during nursing.
Sometimes, your baby may have difficulty latching because they have a tongue tie. A lactation consultant can help diagnose this issue, or they might send you to a specialist that can better help with your difficulties.
You may need to use a nipple shield for a while to protect your nipples from further damage. If you do use them, you’ll want to wash them between every feeding.
What Should I Do In Between Sessions?
There are many things you can do to help prevent issues from soreness.
After your baby is done breastfeeding or you’re done pumping, it can help to let the breast milk air dry on your breasts. If you have breast or nursing pads, you’ll want to change them when they’re moist (It can cause dryness.).
If you already have irritated nipples, there are a couple of things that you can use to help. Before pumping sessions, try corn, canola, or olive oil to help lubricate your nipple. After pumping and breastfeeding, you may want to use some modified lanolin ointment or cream.
Some mothers find that cool, moist cloths placed on the breasts can help. Others prefer placing an ice pack over their clothes for around 20 minutes.
How To Prevent or Soothe Other Types of Pain
Although nipple pain is typically a result of pumping or breastfeeding difficulties, general breast pain or soreness is typically caused by other things, like infections or excess milk in your breasts.
Sometimes your milk ducts get clogged. You might notice a lump forming under your skin, but the pain is probably the symptom you’ll notice first.
While nursing, it’s best to position your baby so that their chin is pointing to the clogged area, and you’ll want to try massaging the lump, which can help break up the plug. It will probably take around two to three feedings. Using a pump, whether electric or manual, and massaging the affected area may also help.
For breast massages, try the LaVie Lactation Massager to speed up milk flow and let-down, soften the breast, and get relief from plugged ducts and engorgement. You may want to try warm showers and a warm compress occasionally. A cold compress between feedings can also help.
If the plugged duct doesn’t go away and you begin to experience a fever, aches, chills, and red streaks, call a doctor.
Engorged breasts are overfilled with milk. They usually happen as a result of missed feedings or pumpings. It might also happen around the time your milk supply increases around two to five days after the baby is born.
- Breasts that are firm, swollen, and painful, as well as hard and shiny
- Flat nipples and hard areolas
- Plugged ducts
- A slightly high temperature (should be less than 100F)
The best way to treat breast engorgement is prevention: Breastfeed your newborn every two to three hours or, if you can’t breastfeed, pump.
If you are suffering from engorgement, cold packs applied over the clothes for about 20 minutes can help alleviate the pain. If it’s mild, you could try moist heat for five minutes by using a warm pack.
Although your goal is to get rid of some excess milk, you’ll want to start by massaging your breast and maybe even hand expression before you start using a pump. While pumping, it’s best to continue massaging your breast until it becomes soft again.
If pumping isn’t working, you can try the Reverse Pressure Softening method. Usually, it’s done by pressing down around the nipple using your fingertips in a ringed position. The fluids should shift, causing the area to soften, and hopefully, milk will start leaking.
Oral thrush is a type of yeast infection that can affect your nipples and breast. Usually, it’s transferred to the breast from your baby’s mouth. If your baby has oral thrush, they’ll have white or yellowish spots on their cheeks, tongue, and lips. Their lips may also be cracked in the corners.
Symptoms of oral thrush in your breasts are:
- Burning/shooting pain during and/or after feedings
- Itchy, cracked, red, pink, shiny, flaky, or burning nipples
- Blisters and a rash
- Pain deep in the breast
- Pain, even if your baby has a good latch or you’ve readjusted
If you and your baby have these symptoms, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider.
Mastitis is another type of infection. It causes a reddened area on the breast and flu-like symptoms, including nausea, a high temperature, and vomiting.
If you experience these symptoms, you should empty your breasts and rest. If the symptoms are not alleviated, you’ll want to call your OB-GYN or other healthcare providers. They will probably prescribe antibiotics. If you aren’t feeling better after the recommended treatment plan, you should try contacting your doctor again.
Nipple Shape Questions
If you have inverted or flat nipples, it may cause some difficulties breastfeeding. It’s best to talk to your lactation consultant or another healthcare professional about these, as they can provide a plan to help you.
Preventing and Soothing Soreness
The best way to prevent nipple soreness is to practice cleanliness and to make sure you’re using the right size pumping equipment or helping your baby achieve a good latch.
With the proper equipment and understanding of what your body needs, your pumping or breastfeeding journey can be much easier. However, sometimes, you might need more hands-on help, especially if your little one is struggling to latch properly.