It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve encountered as a new mum; a gummy, sucking and wide open mouth, launching itself at my sore, bleeding and cracked nipple.
I’d heard that your breasts got sore when breastfeeding, but the chasm that stretched itself across my nipple was not what I was expecting. Sore nipples are no joke. They HURT. Like really, really hurt.
Whether you breastfeed, express or use a combination of both, your breasts are the main source of nutrition for your baby during the first 12 months and beyond. So you should probably take pretty good care of them – for bubs benefit and your own comfort.
Whichever method you choose to feed your baby, your nipples are going to cop a beating. There are however, a lot of conflicting opinions out there about whether your nipples SHOULD become sore and tender. Many experts state that with the right latch, your nipples should survive relatively intact.
While the right latch is absolutely essential, in our experience, the majority of women experience SOME nipple tenderness and sensitivity, after all, breastfeeding is TOTALLY NEW. You've likely never had anyone attached to your nipples for hours at a time and that kind of constant action takes some getting used to!
If your nipples are red, sore and tender, there are a few things you can do to help heal them quickly. If the damage goes beyond that and into cracked, bleeding, blistered territory then you absolutely should consult with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for help, support and advice.
The best treatment for sore nipples
There are a few things you can do to ease soreness and minimise the likelihood of cracked nipples:
Breastmilk contains antibacterial lauric acid and Antibody IgA, which is an antiseptic, so express a little after you feed your baby and put it on your nipples.
Leave your nipples out to air dry – Yes this sounds strange but it's super helpful. Bacteria thrive in moist, sugary environments (like inside your bra or breast pad). Allowing your nipples to dry and even giving them a few minutes of sun can help the healing process and prevent any nasties starting to grow.
Apply a soothing nipple cream or ointment - Popping some soothing and healing nipple cream on your nipples to soften and protect can be heavenly when you're feeling tender.. Make sure you choose a baby safe and natural nipple cream that contains no hidden nasties.
Use healing breasts discs - These nifty little pads are instantly soothing and healing. Simply apply to your nipple after a feed and let them work their magic. For a super cool added bonus, pop them in the fridge for instant relief. We love Rite Aid Hydrogel Breast Discs and Multi-Mam Compresses.
Consider a nipple shield - If nipple damage is making it too painful to feed, a nipple shield can be very helpful. When used correctly and with the support of a Lactation Consultant, a nipple shield can give your nipples a chance to recover from damage while still allowing your baby to breastfeed. You can find out more about using nipple shields here.
Stock up on super soft breast pads - The very last thing you need when your nipples are tender is a scratchy breast pad irritating the skin. Stocking up on ultra soft, absorbent breast pads means nipples are able to heal while you also stay dry. We love reusable breast pads as the materials are gentle on the skin while still being super absorbent. Lactivate® Reusable Nursing Pads offer three layers of defence against milky spills- with an ultra absorbent microfibre core, soft bamboo layer and leak proof outer TPU layer.
- Try a nipple shell or milk collector - A nipple shell or milk collector is a great way to protect your sensitive nipples from rubbing against your clothes/bra while also collecting the milk that would otherwise be lost in a breast pad. The Haakaa Silicone Milk Collector Twin Pack is a great option and also comes with a FREE gift.
Image source: Instagram @amy_isha_hembrow
Mastitis and engorgement
Sore, tender boobs? Chances are good that you're engorged. Engorgement can happen when your milk first comes in or if your bub goes a little longer between feeds. Typically, your breasts will feel hard and tender and baby may have trouble latching.
It's important to get on top of engorgement as it can lead to other things like blocked or plugged ducts and even mastitis. Heat and massage are your best friends when it comes to relieving engorgement and clearing blocked ducts. Using hot/cold packs, warm compresses and a lactation massager at every feed can help get things moving, as can changing the position in which you feed bub.
If the lump doesn't begin to shift, your breast becomes hot, or you start to feel unwell, you'll beed to contact your GP ASAP as it's likely you're developing mastitis. Mastitis can make you very, very unwell quickly and usually requires antibiotics to be cleared. Click here to read more about mastitis and how it can be prevented.
A quick note on bras
You’ll need a good quality bra that is soft, supportive and has good clips to make accessing your breasts for feeding or expressing easy. The last thing you want is an impatient baby pulling at your $4 nursing singlet, snapping the clasp and leaving you to do the grocery shopping with it all just… um…bouncing there!
A good bra is also essential if you're planning on returning to exercise. It's highly likely your breasts will be larger (and far more tender) than they were, pre pregnancy and baby, and supporting the girls properly with a breastfeeding friendly sports bra is super important.
If you're having trouble feeding or need help and advice, check out our article on what to do when breastfeeding ISN'T working
You can also contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association MUM2MUM hotline for support 24/7 on 1800 686 268
To shop our range of breast and nipple care products, click HERE