FAQ: How Can I Treat Breastfeeding Soreness?

Everyone experiences breastfeeding differently. Some mothers learn to breastfeed and find that they never have any discomfort or soreness. However, most mothers report that their nipples or breasts have some degree of soreness. How can you avoid soreness, or is it simply part of the breastfeeding process? In this article, you will learn how you can treat breastfeeding soreness.

Is it Normal to Have Sore Nipples?

The answer to this question is that it depends on the level of severity of soreness. A bit of initial tenderness in the first week or two is not uncommon. However, soreness that is very painful throughout the feeding, a pinchy feeling, or sore nipples that cause you to wince or your toes to curl likely means that something is not right in your breastfeeding techniques.

Finding the Reason for Sore Nipples

Don't forget to be working on correcting the reason for nipple soreness. The most common reasons for nipple soreness are a poor latch or not breaking the suction properly when ending a feeding. A good latch can be achieved by placing your baby skin-to-skin facing your breast, cradling your baby close to you, supporting your breast with one hand and the baby's shoulders with the other.
Tickle the baby's upper lip to encourage the baby to open wide; as you offer the breast, be sure your baby's chin is buried into your breast, and the baby's nose is not touching the breast. If the baby is simply sucking on your nipple and does not have most of the areola (the dark part surrounding the nipple) in her mouth, it will feel pinchy and hurt much more and will signal you that it is not a good latch.
To break the baby's suction at the end of a feed, place a clean finger in the baby's mouth, in between the gums to release your nipple. Remember that your nipple goes far back into the baby's mouth, and you cannot simply break the suction at the baby's lips.

Is it Normal for My Breasts to be Sore?

Sometimes there is discomfort when your breastmilk first comes in, and your breasts fill with milk. There can also be a pain if your breasts become too full or your baby is not keeping up with your milk supply or not latching properly. This is known as engorgement. Do not pump or express too much breastmilk if you are engorged since this will just cause your body to make more milk. Try expressing milk with a hands-free breast pump just a bit to soften your nipple if it is too hard for your baby to get a good latch. Massage your breasts during feedings or use compressions to encourage your milk to flow more freely.

Treatment for Engorgement and Mastitis

Your care provider will recommend ibuprofen for relief of discomfort from engorgement. You can also use cold compresses after feedings.
If you need to decrease your milk supply, you can use cabbage leaves 3-4 times a day after feedings. Place a green cabbage leaf on each breast for about 10 minutes or until the leaves wilt. Discontinue using the cabbage leaves after your milk supply returns to normal.
If your breast tissue becomes tender and there is a reddened area, this could be a sign of mastitis or a breast infection. Sometimes you will also have mild flu-like symptoms and low-grade fever in addition to breast tenderness. In most cases, continuing to breastfeed is all you need to do. However, you may benefit from seeing your care provider for antibiotics if the redness and symptoms do not go away in a few days.

How Can Sore Nipples Be Treated?

If your nipples are sore, cracked, or bleeding, it can make the entire breastfeeding experience miserable. Over-the-counter breast creams can help. You can also find hydrogel pads to treat nipple soreness. Even expressing a few drops of breastmilk and rubbing it over your nipples at the end of feedings can help. Breastmilk contains antimicrobials and anti-inflammatory properties, so they are a great treatment for sore nipples. Treatment for nipple soreness (such as All-purpose Nipple Cream) works well and is available by prescription; however, it should be used judiciously since it contains steroids. There are things a nursing mother can do to prevent nipple soreness and to relieve it if it has already occurred.

Make Sure Baby is Latching Properly

The latching issues can lead to sore nipples when breastfeeding. If a baby's mouth is not opened wide enough or if the baby is not in a good position to take the breast into the mouth properly, the result can be a mother with sore nipples. Nursing mothers should experiment with positions to find the ones that work best for them and their babies. Mothers having trouble finding a good position might benefit from seeking the assistance of a lactation consultant.

Cleanse Nipples with Water Only

It is important that breastfeeding mothers do not use soap to clean their breasts. Soap can dry out the skin and contribute to soreness and cracking. Using warm water on the nipples is enough to get them clean and can prevent pain.

Check Yourself and Your Baby for Thrush

Thrush is a type of yeast infection that babies can sometimes get in their mouths. If a baby has thrush, the infection may be passed to the mother and affect her nipples. Thrush can cause nipple soreness. A mother can tell if her baby has thrush by looking into her mouth. If the baby has a white coating in her mouth, she might have thrush and should be taken to a pediatrician for treatment. The mother should also see her doctor for medication.

Use Breast Milk to Heal the Breast

Breast milk has healing properties and can be used by a mother to help relieve nipple soreness. After feeding her baby, a mother can express a little bit of milk and apply it to her nipples like a salve.

Lanolin to Relieve Soreness

A nursing mother can use lanolin to help relieve nipple soreness. This can be rubbed on nipples after breastfeeding. It does not need to be removed before nursing again as it is safe for the baby.
Nursing mothers who experience severe nipple soreness should consult with their physicians, especially if they have tried all methods to prevent and eliminate pain and nothing is working.

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