When I was pregnant with my baby boy, I was determined to breastfeed him exclusively. I thought the biggest challenge I would ever face when breastfeeding was sustaining the milk supply throughout his infancy, so I was fully prepared to tackle the problem of dwindling supply when it happened. Little did I know, my supply would be the least of my worries. I never expected that I would encounter other troubling concerns along the way.
Fast forward to 6 months after he was born, I was happy that he was still exclusively breastfeeding up until this point. My supply was abundant; we had a good feeding schedule that was working perfectly fine for both my baby and me. Everything seemed great until he started growing his front teeth. That was when the pain started. He learned to bite and pull on my nipples, which was painful, but tolerable at first. As he kept doing it over and over again every time he fed, the pain started becoming unbearable.
My nipples were constantly sore and bleeding, I would switch sides to let the soreness and wounds heal, but he would do the same to the other nipple. I love my baby and I always want what's the best for him, but it came to a point when the pain was just too much that I thought the best thing to do was wean him off the breast. He was 10 months old when I started thinking about what formula milk to give him. I also started buying baby bottles because I pretty much decided to stop breastfeeding him and just switch him to bottle feeding of formula milk.
But every time I saw him wanting me and my breastmilk, I postponed giving him the bottle. I didn’t give up that easily. I read and researched about having sore nipples from breastfeeding. I also talked to several moms and a lactation consultant to get to the bottom of this problem. After absorbing all the information I gathered, I realized I could continue breastfeeding despite the sore nipples. There is a wealth of information available out there that mothers need to know about so they can address and triumph over various breastfeeding concerns.
Understanding the Causes of Sore Nipples
There are many causes of sore nipples, but the most common one is improper latching. I realized this is what was causing my cracked and painful nipple while breastfeeding. My baby wasn’t latching properly!
In my experience, as soon as I managed to help my baby latch properly, my baby would stop the tugging, biting, and pulling that caused the soreness. Ineffective latching even during the early stages can cause chafing from the baby’s mouth or tongue.
When your baby does not latch properly, they don’t get all the milk that they need, causing them to be hungry and unsettled which translates to biting and tugging. Latching issues can also be caused by tongue-tie in newborn babies, flat nipples, or breast engorgement that makes the nipple flatter, thus, harder for the baby to latch.
There are other causes of sore nipples for breastfeeding moms that may not be related to improper latching. These include oral thrush that causes yeast infection when transferred from your baby's mouth to your nipples. Blocked milk ducts can also cause sore nipples, as well as tight bras, soaps, and perfumes that can irritate.
How I Dealt with Sore Nipples and Continued with Exclusive Breastfeeding
Apart from consistently checking if my baby is latching properly, here are the things I did to deal with the soreness of my nipples while continuing to breastfeed.
- I applied ice to the sore nipple.
Cold temperatures relieve the pain and reduce swelling. This gave me the necessary relief after feeding my baby. The effective treatment for me was to put ice cubes in an ice pack or plastic bag wrapped in a cloth made of cotton. I apply the pack to the sore breast for 10 minutes each time throughout the day to relieve the pain.
- An organic nipple balm also helped relieve my nipples after every feed.
Since my nipples have become dry and cracked, I opted to apply an organic, chemical-free nipple balm to effectively soothe the soreness. I did this after every feed and air-dried nipples until the balm got absorbed by the skin.
Sometimes, I also dab some breast milk on my cracked nipples as it helps to keep them moisturized.
- I offered the less painful breast, so the other one can heal.
Because my baby dream feeds a couple of times throughout the night, I offer him the same nipple the whole night -- the one that isn’t as sore as the other one. This way, the other, the more painful nipple can have time to heal.
- When my nipples were too sore, I resorted to pumping and hand expressing milk.
While waiting for my nipples to heal, I pumped some of my milk and gave it to my baby through his sippy cup. I learned that the important thing during that time was to feed my baby with my breast milk even if he wasn’t directly getting it from my breasts.
- I washed my nipples only with water and avoided using soap.
Detergents and soaps can cause skin irritation, which can aggravate the condition of sore nipples. Hence, I made sure to only clean my nipple area with clean water to prevent further irritation and dryness.
- I corrected my baby’s latch onto my breasts.
I made sure that the nipple was positioned deep in the baby's mouth. One sign that I used to see if he latched properly was that my baby's mouth should be wide open around the breast and not just the nipple. There should be more dark skin on the nipples above the baby's mouth than under his lower lips.
I also tried different positions to see which one is most comfortable and easiest for both of us. If he was biting my nipple, I broke suction calmly and properly by sliding my pinky finger under the baby’s lips on the side to detach.
What I’ve Learned from this Experience
Breastfeeding should be an amazing journey as it bonds you and your baby. But sore nipples can prevent you from experiencing the joy that comes with it. So it's important to make the most of the resources around you and educate yourself. Being well informed can help you take delight in the joys of motherhood while keeping your baby healthy, and maintaining your physical and mental well-being as well.
My baby is now 13 months old and I’m happy to share that we are still exclusively breastfeeding until now. While having sore nipples almost convinced me to stop our breastfeeding journey, it also taught me how to properly feed my baby and care for myself.