Cracked and sore nipples are mainly experienced by nursing mothers, especially in the first few weeks of breastfeeding. They appear red, irritated, and scabbed on the nipple or the skin around the nipple.
The pain experienced by breastfeeding mothers with cracked and sore nipples causes many to cease exclusive breastfeeding. Also, breastfeeding pain can result in psychological distress for the mother interfering with the mood, sleep, and bonding between the mother and child.
In this article, we look into the causes of nipple pains and cracks during breastfeeding, how to prevent them, and realize easy and comfortable breastfeeding.
Nipple Soreness: Causes and Preventive Measures
With nipple soreness being a common problem when breastfeeding, here is a list of causes that you should be on the lookout for;
A correct latch should ensure that your entire nipple and part of the surrounding areola are in your baby’s mouth. The nipple should be deep inside the baby’s mouth.
Improper latch occurs when only the nipple is in the baby’s mouth, and the gums press down on it as the baby tries to suckle. The continuous sucking motion on the nipple makes the nerves sensitive, causing nipple pain.
Improper latching also means your baby is not getting enough breast milk leading to an always-hungry, fussy baby.
If you are unsure your baby is latching properly, consult a lactation expert or your doctor.
This is a breast infection that occurs when a milk duct is blocked. A blocked milk duct will prevent milk from flowing out of the breast properly.
This causes swelling and pain in the nipple and breast. Mastitis is also characterized by red streaks on the breast, a hard lump in the breast, and flu-like symptoms like body aches and fever.
To prevent this, feed your baby every 2 to 3 hours. This will keep your breastmilk comfortable, preventing engorgement, which may also prevent good latch.
And, it is good to soften your breasts before a feed to make it easier for the baby to latch. I suggest using clean fingers to remove some breast milk before each feed to relieve the tightness and make your breast tissues softer.
Incorrect use of the breast pump
You may use a breast pump to relieve engorgement or increase your breast milk supply. Correct use of the breast pump is key in preventing nipple pain.
Note that breast pump flanges come in different sizes. You must choose one that is right for your breast size. The flange(shield) should fit correctly and comfortably.
Also, do not set the pump suction too high when starting to pump; a gradual increase in speed and suction levels is more likely to produce more milk with less pain.
Your baby may have a tongue tie.
A tongue tie will prevent your baby from reaching past his lower lip when he cries. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tongue ties are common, affecting almost 5 percent of newborns.
The problem may be corrected using minor surgery. The doctor uses sterile scissors to snip the frenulum. This procedure is quick and has minimal complications for babies as they can breastfeed immediately after it.
Consider your new breast size and texture during breastfeeding.
Your breasts may change in both texture and size during breastfeeding. You will notice that your breasts will increase in size during breastfeeding and get heavier.
An ideal bra will support your enlarging breasts as they get pulled down. And yes, even if you are nursing your baby at home, you need a bra.
Comfort is your guide to choosing a suitable bra. A tight bra will press onto your breasts, resulting in plugged ducts which may lead to sore breasts.
A perfectly fitting bra should be tight enough. Also, the backstrap should be broad to support your heavy breasts. It should also have several hooks fitted to it to adjust the straps.
A comfortable bra will not only minimize discomfort and prevent engorgement but also help prevent backache.
Help your baby unlatch properly.
When your baby is done feeding or is ready to switch sides, he may automatically open their mouth and release the nipple. But, sometimes, they may not let go, so you must remove your baby from your breast.
Do not try to remove him from the breast by pulling him off. Your baby may have a fighting response to your actions and decide to bite down on the nipple to prevent detachment. This will not only be painful but will also leave your nipple sore or damage the breast tissue.
A breast infection can enter your breast from the baby’s mouth or the skin around your breast.
Accumulation of breast milk can also provide a breeding ground for bacteria. Frequent feeding is essential to ensure your breasts are continually emptied. You can also use a breast pump to remove the excess milk for future use.
Wet breast pads are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Ensure your breast area, bra, and pads are clean and dry. Also, do not use breast pads with any products that have plastic or are lined with waterproof materials as they hold in moisture.
The growth of bacteria causes the areola to break down leading to cracked, sore nipples, thrush, or even a breast infection.
To rule out breast infection, look out for the following symptoms;
- Breast pain
- Breast lumps
- Breast enlargement or fullness on only one side of the breast
- Itchy breasts
- Discharge that may contain pus
- Flu-like symptoms and fever
- The breast is warm to touch, tender, or swollen
- Lymph nodes in the armpit are tender or enlarged on the same side.
You can address a breast infection problem through self-care by applying moist heat to the infected breast. Do this with a clean, soft cloth for 10 to 15 minutes, four times a day.
You may combine this with pain relievers.
Consult your doctor on suitable painkillers and safe antibiotics for your breastfeeding child.
Is it time to seek help?
Although you can address breastfeeding soreness and pain at home don’t hesitate to contact a lactation doctor when your baby is not getting enough milk.
A sign that your baby is not getting enough milk is if they are fussy for the better part of the day. Also, they will have their diapers dry most of the time.
Consult your doctor if your pain is too severe to continue breastfeeding or if you notice abscess discharge. Your doctor may administer needle aspiration under ultrasound together with antibiotics.
Severe cases of abscess production may require incision and drainage.
Sore nipples and breastfeeding pain are common in breastfeeding mothers. Luckily, there are ways to reduce the soreness and manage this pain. If one method is not working don’t give up breastfeeding. Understand the underlying cause of the soreness.
Also, ask experienced mothers for advice, join breastfeeding mothers online communities for support, and work with your doctor to prevent and treat sore nipples.
Your comfort is a priority as that of your baby depends on it, so take care of yourself and enjoy your nursing journey.