Sore nipples can be one of the more common breast-feeding challenges. You certainly are not alone in this, however, you don't need to remain sore, or worse yet, in pain. Pain at any point is your bodies way of telling you something is wrong and you need to pay attention to yourself.
What causes soreness and pain?
Most commonly it is because of trouble with positioning and latch, creating friction, and proceeding them to soreness, cracks, blisters, bleeding and sometimes infections and even lose of skin.
What can be done? Here are a few quick ideas.
Most importantly, check your position and your comfort. One of my rules is to make sure mom is comfortable first. Ideally, mothers are slightly reclined, arms and shoulders lose and down, and her neck has the ability to be relaxed. With this, mothers can then bring baby to them. You don't want to try to take your breast to baby. Baby can be front-to-front with mom, being supported by mother’s arms, and mother’s arms can be supported with pillows. Use gravity to help baby get on the breast deeper, rather than sitting upright and having gravity pull baby down or away from the breast.
If we still have discomfort, we need to check baby’s latch. A good latch is vital to comfort but also to long term duration of breastfeeding. A good latch is key to effective feeding which is essential for adequate milk supply. You might need to ask someone for help with checking the latch. If someone tells you it looks good, but you have pain during or after a feed, you need to ask someone else.
If position changes do not help with latching issues and soreness and pain are still prevailing sometimes we need to look farther into reasons and makes plans. Sometimes we can use a nipple shield to help protect the nipple and help baby to latch. It is important to get good help if needing a shield. There are important things to watch for such as fitting, proper placement, adequate milk transfer, babies output and weight gain. This is very important to know and recognize however; nipple shields are a Band-aid solution. They are not an answer, they are simply a tool to help keep the baby breastfeeding, at the breast, rather than quitting breast-feeding or going to pumping and feeding another way. It is a short term tool that needs a bigger plan.
Throw away the lanolin! For years we were told Lanolin was fabulous and all new mothers needed it. But the new research shows us, doing nothing is actually more effective than lanolin and in fact lanolin can delay healing, making things even worse for a longer period of time. Mor effectively you can apply breastmilk to the nipple or coconut oil or calendula if you want to try something else.
Do not let you nipples be wet and cold at the same time. Again, we were told for years that we should let the nipples air dry. But for mother’s with very sore, damaged nipples, the cool air can cause more harm. It is a good idea to apply heat while the nipple dries. Something like a rice sock or heating pad after baby unlatches, or even when getting out of the shower or bath, can help. This helps bring blood flow to the nipple that previously was restricted.
Soreness and pain are not considered normal for breastfeeding at any time or for any length of time. If basic positioning and latch changes do not help, it is worth having someone skilled come and have a look. They can help assess and evaluate what might be happening and help you make a plan to further overcome the struggles.