Sore Nipples While Breastfeeding

Mother breastfeeding in a side lying position
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Sore nipples can be a real issue in pregnancy, but it is also something that can happen in breastfeeding. This can be a major source of pain for breastfeeding mothers. The good news is that the cause of nipple soreness is typically easily identified. It is usually caused by the improper position of the baby, causing an improper attachment or there is a problem with the baby's sucking. Occasionally both are a cause of the problem. The good news is that with some help, you and baby can quickly move forward with your breastfeeding relationship.

How Is Baby's Position?

When you have a good breastfeeding position, the baby is better able to latch onto the breast and nurse well. If the baby is not in a good position, their alignment may be off and problems with soreness can become an issue. This is one of those places where small changes make a huge difference. This is why another set of eyeballs is really important.

This is one reason why it is important to learn about proper positioning and what makes a good latch, preferably before the birth of your baby. When you have a poor attachment, not only do you get sore nipples, but your baby can also suffer from problems with gas and poor weight gain. The sooner you get help, the faster you can ditch the pain.

How Is Your Baby Attaching?

The baby's attachment is about the proper placement of baby's mouth and tongue. While a proper position will help a good attachment, it is not the only thing. To get a good attachment, you need to be sure that every time the baby gets on the breast that it is comfortable. If there is even a slight bit of pain, be sure to take your clean finger and insert it into the edge of the baby's mouth to break the suction. Then try again. You may need to do this several times before the latch is comfortable for you.

If you are having any type of nipple pain, it is imperative that you seek help and support as soon as you feel pain. Ideally, in person support is the best. You can try to go back to the place where you gave birth. Many hospitals now have lactation clinics that will see their patients. If this is not an option, you can try the office of your midwife or doctor to see if they have a lactation consultant who can help. There are also private lactation consultants, some work in stores, others will travel to your home. You can also try an in person meeting with La Leche League International (LLLI).

Be leery of quick fixes or people who try to give you advice when they don't have the credentials to help. Remember, lactation is a very specific science that is not taught well in medical or nursing school. So be sure to ask for someone with specific training. It is also important that you don't self-prescribe items like nipple shields. These are not recommended for this issue. They can actually reduce your milk supply and make matters worse. 

Steps for Relieving Breastfeeding Pain

  1. Check positioning
  2. Check latch
  3. If that doesn't help, get professional support

Sore nipples are often something that can start as a really small problem. One feeding and you're thinking, "I can hang with this..." by the next feeding, everything is awful. The sooner you get help, the faster you will get everything straightened out.

If you have been breastfeeding for awhile and all of a sudden have sore nipples, that is typically not caused by positioning or latch and may have other causes. You should seek professional support. This can be more common when your baby is older and will have very different causes and therefore, different treatments.

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Article Sources

  • Lawrence, RA, Lawrence, RM. Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, 7th ed. 2011.
  • Mohrbacher, N. Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple. Hale Publishing. 2010.