As you get the hang of breastfeeding your newborn, it’s not uncommon to experience sore, tender, cracked, blistered, and even bleeding nipples. Luckily, there are steps you can take to help prevent such discomfort, as well as things you can do to care for your breasts when soreness and cracking occurs. Eventually your nipples will heal and toughen up, but first let’s look at the possible underlying causes of cracked and sore nipples:
Uncomfortable breastfeeding positions causing poor attachment
Some positions can cause your baby to squash the nipple as they feed, which can make it painful, or may damage the nipple or restrict milk flow. You could try letting your baby lead the way. Breastfeeding is instinctive for babies, so allow your baby to position their chin, head, and neck in a way that feels comfortable to them. To attach deeply, your baby needs to be able to open their mouth wide and swallow easily.
Pumping equipment is ill-fitting or too rigorous
If you’re expressing, the pump flange could be too big or too small, possibly leading to nipple pain or blisters. You may need to try a different pump that is adjustable to fit your breasts better. Also, lowering the speed setting could help to minimise chafing and pulling at your nipples.
An ill-fitting nursing bra could be putting excess pressure on the nipples
Get professionally fitted for a nursing bra if possible, or take your own measurements to get the right size. Chances are your breasts are bigger than when you were pregnant and bought your bras.
A clogged milk duct, yeast infection, or mastitis
A clogged milk duct can cause blisters, while a yeast infection can cause sharp, burning pain during breastfeeding. Mastitis is a potentially serious breast infection that can result in severe breast and nipple soreness, redness and heat in the infected area, and even a fever.
Breastfeeding is a learned skill, and like any new skill, it requires practice, patience, and gradual progress to understand what works and what doesn’t. Between what feels like endless feeds in the beginning, this is what you can do to keep your nipples healthy and as pain-free as possible:
See your doctor if you require pain relief or suspect a medical cause. Contact an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or your maternal and child health nurse.