All women have different sized and shaped breasts. Likewise, all women have different shaped and sized nipples. Some women with certain nipple types worry they may not be able to breastfeed. Most mothers, regardless of the breast or nipple shape or size, can breastfeed.
Some mothers with nipple variations such as flat or inverted nipples may find it helpful to obtain some tips from a breastfeeding expert such as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). It’s important to be aware that while one mother baby pair may experience breastfeeding challenges if a mother’s nipples are flat or inverted, another couple may breastfeed without difficulty.
If you’re concerned about flat or inverted nipples, here are 3 tips to help.
#1 – Seek Support Prenatally
If you’re pregnant, you may have already noticed some changes to your breasts, nipples and areolae as they prepare for breastfeeding. For example, you may have noticed an increase in the size of your breasts (and perhaps your nipples) and perhaps darkening of your nipples/areolae. You may have even noticed the Montgomery glands around your areolae becoming more prominent.
Another thing you can look at is what type of nipples you have. If you’re nipples remain flush with your areolae or don’t come out when coaxed, you most likely have flat or inverted nipples. If so, you may find it helpful to speak with an Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) counsellor, La Leche League leader or IBCLC. They can provide you with tips about how to get breastfeeding off to the best start possible (eg by providing tips about how to optimise positioning and attachment, early skin-to-skin contact and the importance of early, frequent and effective milk removal in helping to establish your supply).
If you’re in Australia, consider attending an ABA breastfeeding education class where you can learn all about breastfeeding before your baby is born.
#2: Minimise Breast Engorgement
Some mothers may experience engorgement when their milk comes in. This can result in swelling to your areolae region and hence lead to flattening (or further flattening) of your nipples and also create extra firmness in your breasts. These things may make it more difficult for your baby to attach. Again, speaking with an ABA counsellor, midwife or IBCLC can help. They may suggest some hand expressing and reverse pressure softening prior to feeds to help your baby attach on more easily.
Of course prevention is better than cure, so trying to prevent your breasts becoming engorged in the first place can help. Feeding your baby whenever your baby shows cues to feed and optimising positioning and attachment can help reduce the risk of your breasts becoming engorged. If there are problems with feeding your baby directly from your breasts, hand expressing is the mainstay of milk removal in the early days postnatally.
#3: Seek Tips From A Breastfeeding Expert
If you’re having difficulty getting your baby to attach to your breasts, seek extra tips from a breastfeeding expert such as an ABA counsellor, La Leche League leader, midwife or IBCLC. If you have flat or inverted nipples, it may be suggested to try:
- Drawing your nipples out before breastfeeding (eg by expressing by hand or with a pump before feeds).
- Baby-led attachment. This is when a baby uses his own instincts to seek his mother’s breasts on his own accord. Sometimes, this helps a baby to attach and feed as compared to someone putting him to the breast.
- A nipple shield. If nothing else seems to work, a nipple shield can be a good solution. It gives a baby with something tangible to attach onto. Before trying a nipple shield, it’s important to seek face-to-face support from a breastfeeding expert.
So, while certain nipple variations can sometimes make breastfeeding a bit more tricky, there are tips which can help. If you’re concerned, be sure to seek help ASAP.