One common and frequent complaint that breastfeeding mothers have is of sore nipples. It is normal in the first week or so of breastfeeding to experience discomfort, pain or tenderness when the baby first latches on to the breast. Ideally, it should last for a few seconds. But when high levels of pain last throughout the feeding, that is neither normal nor a necessary part of the nursing experience.
Reasons Why Nipples Become Sore During Breastfeeding
Knowing the cause of soreness will help you work with your doctor better and choose the right treatment whether you are tackling inflammation, broken skin or an infection.
- An Improper Latch
By far, the most common reason for mothers to have sore nipples is the baby having an improper or shallow latch. This happens when the baby is not taking the nipple deeply enough into the mouth and has to suck or pull your nipple. Then the baby sucks on the nipple rather than the breast, and your nipple gets pinched against the part of the baby’s mouth where the palate is hard, causing pain at first and eventually damaging the nipple.
It is medical condition wherein the frenulum (the band of tissue that connects the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is too short or extends too far to the front of the tongue. This restricts the movement of the tongue and the baby may not be able to latch on deeply to the nipple, causing nursing problems, including sore nipples.
Sore nipples after a spell of pain-free feeding, and sensations of burning, shooting or stabbing pain in the breasts may be an indication of thrush on your nipples. Thrush is a yeast (fungal) infection caused by the overgrowth of a type of fungus, Candida Albicans. Signs of thrush include itchy, red, shiny, painful nipples and shooting pain in the breast during or after a feeding. Pain due to thrush can last for up to an hour after the baby has been fed. A baby can get Thrush in his mouth (often seen as white patches inside the cheeks) and may pass it on to the mother and cause nipple pain or damage.
Vasospasm is a sudden tightening or constriction of a blood vessel (in the nipple, in this case) that causes burning, stinging or sharp pain. It might occur a short time after nursing or in between feedings, when due to the restricted blood flow, the nipples suddenly change colour and look pale, returning to the normal colour later.
Friction blisters can develop on the nipples due to constant rubbing or pressure put on the same spot of the skin. They can be clear or full of blood and cause intense nipple pain during feedings. Friction or suction from a poor latch is most often behind this type of blister.
Dermatitis, Eczema, and Psoriasis are skin conditions that can develop and make nipples inflamed and itchy. They manifest as dry, red, raised rashes or flaky, scaly patches on the skin and could be caused due to creams or lotions that are being used, including those used in the treatment of Thrush.
Remedies To Treat The Soreness
Breastfeeding shouldn’t be a painful experience. But if you find your nipples sore during or after feeding, here are a few remedies:
- Correct the source
One of the most important factors to keep in mind for treating sore nipples is to correct the source of the problem. Correcting the latch is a good way to prevent continued damage to the nipples.
In the meantime, nurse your baby on the breast with the nipple that is less sore or not sore. You can switch to the breast with the sore nipple after let-down has occurred and the baby is not as aggressively hungry.
- Use your milk to heal
Breast milk is full of antibacterial properties. Massaging it onto your nipples at the end of a feed will help soothe the soreness and also moisturize it. Remember to let it dry before covering it.
- Air dry your nipples
As much as possible, expose the nipples to the air or dab them gently with a towel so they stay dry and heal.
- Consult your doctor
Talk to your doctor who will determine the cause depending on the symptoms and suggest the right treatment.
Ways To Breastfeed To Reduce Chances Of Soreness
- Position And Latch
Get into a comfortable position and bring your baby to your breast, rather than your breast to your baby. While the baby self-latches, tip his head back a little, with his nose at the same level as your nipple. Your baby will need to open its mouth wide to allow your nipple to reach the back of the mouth, close to the soft palate. This will ensure that your nipple is protected from being squashed by your baby’s tongue during the feed.
- Frequency Of Feed
Longer duration between feeds would mean a very hungry baby who may try to grab at your nipple, causing pain. Watching for hunger cues and feeding the baby at regular and right intervals will make it easier to work to get a good latch and avoid impatient suckling resulting in sore nipples.
- Check For Tongue-Tie
Check to see if your baby sticks the tongue out past the bottom lip and he/she lifts the tongue to the roof of the mouth when crying. If your baby seems unable to make these movements, repeatedly takes breaks from suckling, and makes clicking sounds while feeding, then consult with your doctor. Your baby’s tongue-tie can be treated by a simple procedure called Frenotomy, wherein the strip of the skin between the tongue and the bottom of the mouth is snipped.
Breastfeeding is a bond-creating experience between a mother and baby, which can turn distressing when mothers experience soreness in their nipples. Early identification of the cause will lead you to nourishing your baby and also enjoying the process.