It won’t just happen in the beginning, and not only when your little one grows teeth. Anytime in between, you can develop sore nipples, especially during teething periods, cluster feedings, or if your baby happens to favor a side. Personally, over the course of three kids, I’ve experienced most of it–the soreness, the maceration, the cracking, the bleeding, and the exquisitely tender whitish patches that denote thrush. And during those times, I could only drop a tear or two, clench my fists, and scream silently inside my head as my little angel sucked blissfully away. If you haven’t experienced it yet, I can tell you that the pain can become excruciating; not quite on the level of giving birth, but getting there. It’s no coincidence that Moms can relate so much to the song Baby Shark. So what can we do about it?
There are many blogs and posts devoted to this topic; Kellymom has a great practical tips, especially for dealing with the pain and helping with healing. I’ll only talk about which techniques have worked for me personally, which are the following:
1. Check the latch. If your baby isn’t taking enough of your nipple and areola into his mouth, he will end up sucking on just the tip, which will hurt like the dickens. You will know this because his lips may fold inward while sucking, instead of flared outward (the “fishmouth” appearance), and your nipple will look pinched, or flattened once he unlatches. This can happen more frequently if there are any nipple abnormalities (inverted, flat, too large, etc.), or if your baby has an anatomical problem (tongue-tie, cleft lip or palate, etc.). I have the inversion problem, so I have to assist my toddler each time to make sure that she latches correctly.
2. Change up your breastfeeding position every now and then. It will at least mean that the pressure will be shifted to another portion of the nipple, giving the original wound a rest. I usually use a cradle-hold, but when I start to feel pain, I change to a football hold. Check La Leche League for several other positions to try.
3. Apply breastmilk to the wound and let it air-dry. This sounds surprising (or even counter-intuitive) to a lot of women, but the fact of the matter is, breastmilk has a lot of healing and anti-bacterial properties. I usually squeeze out a few drops of milk, rub it around, and then let it air dry. If you’re at home anyway, you can just go shirtless for a while, or use breast shells so that the cloth of your bra or shirt doesn’t touch (and stick to) the open wound. I use the Medela shells, but one problem associated with them is that they tend to cause leakage of milk, especially if you have a good supply. They can be purchased in specialty baby stores, or even online.
Medela breast shells.
4. Use nipple shields. This thin, transparent, silicone lifesaver will settle over your nipple like a second skin and protect it from further trauma and maceration. Since there won’t be direct contact with your baby’s mouth, it will also blunt the pain, and allow for faster healing. A plus is that it will also help a baby latch on to a Mom with inverted nipples. I have three breast shields (again, I prefer Medela, although there are several different brands), and they helped me sustain my breastfeeding relationship with my second son for more than two years. Unfortunately, my daughter started refusing nursing with a shield once she reached a year old, so we’ve been making do without one ever since. That’s the main drawback–you have to start using it early on because older babies are unlikely to accept it.
Medela nipple shields.
5. Apply nipple cream. I have tried 3 kinds of nipple cream: Medela Purelan, Lansinoh Lanolin, and Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. All three are useful for keeping your skin moist and facilitating healing.
Medela Purelan and Lansinoh are both made of 100% medical-grade lanolin, which is a waxy substance produced by wooly animals. It is tasteless, odorless, and basically inert, and is supposedly safe even for babies to ingest, which means that it doesn’t even have to be wiped off before your baby feeds. Medela Purelan is yellowish and thick, and I’ve had the same 4 oz tube for the past 6 years–I haven’t even finished it yet. On the other hand, Lansinoh is whitish, soft, and much more spreadable, which means that I’ve ended up using more of it–I’m presently on my third tube! Although Lanolin is very soothing, it won’t be enough if you’re suffering from a concomitant fungal or bacterial infection, which can present with redness, whitish or yellowish patches, and severe pain. You can
Lansinoh HPA Lanolin.
Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter is a buttery concoction made mostly of herbs and beeswax; it is lanolin-free and all-natural, and also does not need to be wiped off before feeding. Although this brand purports to be safer for your baby, I personally prefer lanolin because it works better for me. To each her own, though.
6. Apply Lucas Papaw Ointment. I am obsessed with this ointment! I have been buying–and happily giving away–tubs and tubes of them for a year, but I have never actually read a blog or website specifically endorsing it for sore nipples. But last month, I started to suffer from another bout of cracking and bleeding (fancy shoving a body part with an open wound into someone’s mouth?) and even my tried-and-tested Lansinoh didn’t help even after applying it religiously for two weeks. One night, my gaze happened upon the handy red tube that I keep stashed in my bag at all times, and I thought: Why not give it a try? It’s recommended for cuts, burns, insect bites, rashes, and other minor skin issues anyway! So never one for half-measures, I ordered the big 75-gram tub and started slathering it on after every feeding. (Caveat: If you do this, it will sting for a few minutes afterwards, but I consider that the effect of the active ingredient.) Lo and behold! My wounds closed after 2 days and were almost pain-free by the third! Alleluia! I am now planning to hoard this life-saver for the foreseeable future.
What products and tips do you swear by for sore nips?