If you’re experiencing sore nipples or pain when breastfeeding, it's important to be working closely with a lactation consultant (IBCLC) or breastfeeding counsellor (e.g. from the Australian Breastfeeding Association or La Leche League) to get to the root of the underlying problem.
But in the meantime, your comfort is a top priority.
If you’re curling your toes each time your baby latches, and holding your body stiffly throughout the entire feeding, breastfeeding your baby isn’t the relaxing experience it should be.
Your tension may transfer to your baby too – causing fussing and fretfulness at the breast.
Take a deep breath and relax. We’ve got some great tips to help make breastfeeding more comfortable as your sore nipples heal.
First and foremost, you should have a breastfeeding session assessed for proper positioning and latch. Sometimes a simple adjustment can make a huge, immediate improvement in your comfort level when feeding. Offer your baby short, frequent feedings, starting on the least sore side first.
You can numb sore nipples right before a feeding (just use an ice cube for a few seconds), and perhaps even pump or hand express just until the milk starts flowing so baby doesn’t need to suck so strongly to elicit that first let-down. Don’t limit the length of the nursing session – let your baby be your guide to when he’s done.
Be sure you are breaking the suction with your finger on baby’s chin or the corner of his mouth when he’s done feeding. Allow you nipples to air dry before covering with your bra – or go braless, if you can. Sunshine on your sore nipples can help them heal, especially if the problem is thrush.
12 Comfort Measures For Sore Nipples
Beyond these basics, here more than a dozen ideas you might like to try for soothing your sore nipples as they heal:
#1: Fresh Breastmilk
Rubbing a bit of expressed breastmilk onto the nipple right after a feeding is sometimes soothing. And the antimicrobial properties of milk may aid in the healing process.
#2: Warm, Moist Compresses
A warm, wet washcloth held over the nipple right after a feeding may provide some immediate relief.
#3: Saline Soak
Adding one-half teaspoon of salt per quart of warm water, then applying it to the nipple with a compress left in place for 10 minutes can be comforting as well as healing.
#4: Tea Bags
Some women find that a warm, moist teabag provides some comfort from sore nipples right after a feeding. But the tannins in tea are astringent and may cause added drying and cracking. If you try tea bags, choose green tea over other varieties as it may have compounds that aid healing.
#5: Hair Dryers
A hair dryer set on low may be comforting right after a feeding, but it may cause too much dryness and can exacerbate the problem with cracked nipples.
Purified lanolin specifically formulated for use by breastfeeding mothers is a great product for moist wound healing. Moist wound healing has been show to speed recovery – by nearly 50%! If you’re allergic to wool, the purification process removes the impurities that cause a skin reaction – so you may be able to use this product without adverse effects.
#7: Virgin Coconut Oil, Grapefruit Seed Extract Oil Or Olive Oil
Some mothers find that these natural oils can be used instead of lanolin. If you choose to do this, be sure that the oil you use is fit for human consumption, and is free of any allergens. Try to find virgin, organic, cold-pressed products, if you can. Avoid vitamin E oil, however, as it may cause a skin reaction for mother or baby, and can even cause toxicity in baby. Virgin coconut oil also boasts anti-fungal properties, which is fantastic for your body, inside and out. You can find virgin coconut oil online here.
Honey is a natural antibiotic, though if you choose to use it for sore nipples you should buy a brand specifically for medicinal purposes (Medihoney or manuka honey). Fresh honey, or the honey you use in cooking and baking shouldn’t be used on your nipples due to the possibility of botulism contamination.
#9: Hydrogel Dressings
When a mother has broken skin on her nipples, a water or glycerin-based gel pad can be placed over the nipple. The idea comes from general wound healing in other specialties, but several companies make these products specifically for breastfeeding mothers. They look much like a breast pad, and fit inside your bra against your breast. They lock in your skin’s moisture to speed the healing process. In studies, mothers reported less pain when using the hydrogel dressing than when using lanolin.
#10: All-Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO)
This prescription ointment was developed by Canadian paediatrician, Jack Newman. It is a combination of several ingredients that promote healing. It’s readily absorbed by mother’s body (if it’s used sparingly, as directed) and it doesn’t need to be wiped off before the next feeding (which may cause added nipple trauma). You can find information about APNO here to share with your care provider.
#11: Nipple Shields
While it might seem like the nipple shield will provide a barrier for sore nipples as they heal, the shield can actually cause more problems than it solves (such as, low milk supply and nipple preference). If you are about to give up on breastfeeding altogether, though, a nipple shield may help you to get through the healing process so that you can enjoy breastfeeding.
#12: Breast Shells
These are dome-shaped plastic devices worn inside your bra. They keep fabric from touching (and possibly sticking to) your nipple, and allow air to circulate around your nipples to promote healing.
Important Information To Note…
If you are putting an ointment or fresh breastmilk on cracked nipples, be sure to wash your hands first so that you don’t introduce germs into the broken skin. Also, experts now recommend preventing infections with normal breast washing – even though soap is usually discouraged.
When there is broken skin on the nipple, wash daily with warm soapy water to lessen the chance of infection. Broken skin increases the risk of mastitis and blocked/plugged ducts, so be sure to watch for changes that might indicate these complications. If your nipples are sore due to thrush, be especially careful with handwashing when using
If your sore nipples are not healing after taking measures to correct positioning and latch and treat the broken skin, make sure the soreness is not due to tongue tie or another anatomic anomaly for your baby. A lactation consultant can help to diagnose such issues. If these are not factors, you may need to see your healthcare provider to rule out a bacterial or candida infection of the breast.
If you do have thrush, you need to work at the root cause — your gut (your immune system). For lots of great information about how to beat thrush, take a look at our article here. No matter where thrush appears on the body, it begins in the gut, meaning you need to fix that in order to fix thrush.
- Martin, J. (2000). Nipple Pain: Causes, Treatments, and Remedies. Leaven 36(1); 10-11.
- Mohrbacher, N. (2010). Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple. Amarillo, TX: Hale Publishing.
- Newman J & Kernerman E. (2009). Sore Nipples.
- Walker, M. (2013). Are there any cures for sore nipples? Clinical Lactation 4(3); 106-15.