Breastfeeding Problems - Flat Or Inverted Nipples

Breastfeeding Problems - Flat Or Inverted Nipples


What Is A Flat Nipple?

Nipples come in different shapes and sizes, similar to the difference in the shape of female bodies. There are no fixed criteria on how a nipple should be. The only significance attached to its shape is whether it can feed a baby adequately or not, and without it being uncomfortable or painful for the mother.

Sometimes, nipples might not protrude from the skin but may be at the same level or height as the surrounding skin. They may also be shallow and well below the level of the surrounding skin, creating a dimple. A number of causes have been attributed to this condition which includes small milk ducts that carry milk from the glands, where they are produced, to the tip of the nipple.

The other causes include genetics and occasionally may be linked to connective tissues that might be present. These tissue bands will pull the nipple inward causing it to either form a dimple or become flat. Sometimes during the pregnancy, the nipple may appear flat due to the increase in the size of the breast tissue.

What Is An Inverted Nipple?

An inverted nipple is a condition in which the nipple is completely inward, instead of only forming a dimple. Sometimes even with flat nipples, mothers have no difficulty in feeding their babies. Therefore, flat nipples that might lead to difficulty in feeding needs to be redefined.

It is not the shape and the size of the nipple that matters, but instead, what is important is the ability to adequately feed a baby. Therefore, it is important to know when a flat or inverted nipple is significant or is not important.

How To Check For Flat And Inverted Nipples

To check for flat or inverted nipples that might pose a problem in feeding a baby, you need to perform a pinch test. Place your thumb and index finger on the areola, the darkened area surrounding the nipple, 2 to 3 cm away from the nipple and pinch the skin between the thumb and forefinger.

If the nipple protrudes out and becomes prominent, then this is considered a normal nipple in spite of the fact that it appears flat. This type of nipple can easily feed a baby without posing any problems. In the next case, even with pinching the skin, the skin remains flat and does not become prominent, then this is considered a true flat nipple. Even then, it rarely causes problems while breastfeeding.

Another scenario that can occur as a result of the pinch test is receding of the nipple into the skin. This is an inverted nipple and it is the kind of nipple that might pose a problem in breastfeeding a baby, as the baby will have trouble latching on to the breast in order to feed.

How To Deal With A Flat Or Inverted Nipple

In almost two-thirds of the cases, a flat or inverted nipple will revert back to a normal position during pregnancy. During pregnancy, hormones are released that increase the size, number and the length of the ducts present in the breast and as a result, help the nipple to protrude.

There are a number of ways to deal with either a flat or inverted nipple. The most important method to deal with it is by making a good latch. To get a good latch, you can use your hands to shape your breast, so that a baby can latch easily. This is known as an assisted latch.

You can also push your breast up at the areola and behind the nipple to help it to protrude. You may also use a nipple shield to help the baby latch. Inverted nipples can express milk, but it’s difficult for babies to latch onto inverted nipples. A Nipple shield is a flexible, silicon artificial nipple that can be used by mothers to feed their babies, and it’s easier to latch onto. While using a nipple shield, make sure it fits well to your breast to make the latching a success.

Another method that can help is the Hoffman technique. This method consists of gently exercising your areola and nipple tissue to make it more prominent. In this method, put your fingers on the side of areola close to the nipple and gently stretch them. Do this sideways and the up and down direction twice a day initially and increase it up to 5 times a day.

While using the Hoffman technique, try to avoid overstretching your nipples as it can lead to cracked nipples. If your pregnancy is a high risk one, then avoid this method altogether as it might lead to premature labour due to the release of hormones in the body. Under normal circumstances, the amount of these hormones released will not precipitate labour, but in a high-risk pregnancy, the body is already under stress and extremely sensitive to even minor hormonal changes.

A normal labour can also help a baby in achieving a good latch. This is because there are no residual drugs in the baby’s system to make him or her sleepy. Therefore, the baby can start latching sooner than later. If only one breast has a flat or inverted nipple then you can easily feed on the other breast, as the body will increase the milk production in that breast as a compensation mechanism.

Feeding a baby with flat or inverted nipples

Inverted Nipples can be a cause for worry. Yet, it’s not an insurmountable problem. There are techniques, and with the right love and support, the mother can breastfeed the baby.