Nipples are funny things right.
Pre baby they come in all shapes, sizes, colours. You’ve got innies, outies and flaties!
Post baby (if you’re unlucky) you can add bleeding, cracked and just down right painful to the list!
Let’s just clear one thing up. Breastfeeding *should not* be painful. It can feel weird, strange even but *not* painful! Your nipples should *not* be sore. Got that?! Do I need to say it again? I know you’re exhausted and have no doubt googled ‘sore nipples’ about a trillion times so I’ll let you off for not believing me straight away.
There are many reasons why your nipples become little balls of fire and in order to pin point why, you’ll need to make contact with a IBCLC or go to a breastfeeding drop in where there are peer supporters or breastfeeding councilors. They can assess what may be causing the problem. I’m going to take you through some of the possible ways they may suggest to douse the flames.
Positioning and attachment.
How you latch on your baby when you feed will determine where your nipple is positioned in their mouth. Too shallow and your nipple will be grated between your baby’s tongue and roof of their mouth-ouch! Positioned correctly your nipple is well out of the way. Go to any IBCLC, peer supporter or breastfeeding councilor and say your nipples are sore and chances are the first thing they’ll ask to see is how your baby latches on for a feed. They’re not assuming you’re doing it wrong, they’re just looking for possible ways to make it more comfortable for you (breastfeeding is a skill remember). And just because they may say your latch is perfect but you are still in pain do not stay silent.
If you want to read a little more about positioning, attachment/latch, this is a good little graphic.
This is a brilliant page which goes through when in a feed the nipple pain starts and possible reasons.
The following webpage has a fab graphic too.
Applying colostrum to your nipples.
Your breasts start producing colostrum towards the end of your pregnancy and for the first days after birth. This milk is magnificent! It is high in all sorts of fantastic things but especially antibodies. One particular antibody (immunoglobulin G or IgG) protects the moist bits of your baby (lungs, intestine and throat) that could potentially come under attack from bugs in the first few days of life.
This magical stuff is therefore brilliantly suited, when gently tapped onto your sore nipple, to begin the healing process.
Moist wound healing and use of creams.
Moist wound healing basically means applying a barrier between your sore nipple and the air. Gone are the days where leaving it open to air is the done thing. Who knew eh!
Applying a thin layer of nipple cream/vasaline to your nipple and providing a moist environment will aid healing and super quickly too! Studies have shown that healing can happen twice as fast. Exciting stuff!
You must apply a *thin* layer (if your nipple is super sore, you can apply it to your breastpad). Keeping a lookout for possible signs of infection (weeping of any colour, increased soreness or you just feeling worse) is incredibly important and if you notice anything untoward you must trot off to your GP. On a side note, you don’t need to wipe the cream off your nipples before you breastfeed your little darling either.
You can also apply warm moist compresses (clean flannels) to your breasts. These increase blood flow to the area and provide soothing relief as well as a moist environment.
These moist cooling little beauties provide instant soothing relief, encourage moist wound healing and assist in protecting from wound infections (Advancedtissue.com (2014)). The majority of these pads can be worn for 24hrs so you must be scrupulous with your hand washing as a moist warm environment is perfect for healing but is also exactly where a bug would like to make their home. The pads come in a few varieties but essentially they are impregnated with water based gels.
Swab nipple and possibly take breast milk samples.
A swab of your nipple and possibly a sample of your breast milk may be advantageous if the cause of your nipple pain may be from an infection. Once an infection has been identified, the appropriate antibiotic can be prescribed by your G.P. Simple. Just monitor for possible signs of thrush (this is a link to signs and symptoms).
Reverse pressure softening.
When you’re breasts are engorged, this fabulous technique means that any fluid around your areola is moved out of the way so your nipple can go further back into your baby’s’ mouth thus preventing the grating mentioned earlier in positioning and attachment (Breastfeeding.ie (2010)). It also triggers a reflex that means your baby doesn’t have to do the flutter sucks to get milk moving (which on an already sore nipple can be too much to bear).
This website has a few very clear graphics of how to carry this out. Think of your fingers as petals on a flower when trying to create dimples.
Application of numbing agents (ice or numbing sprays) and taking of pain relief.
These have a fantastic benefit of stopping your nipples from hurting when you are being assessed for how your baby latches for a feed. However, I would question their use at home. Purely because any numbing agents used on your nipple will reduce any sensation and mean you are unable to make adjustments to your latch that you would naturally make if your nipple is not in the right position. Numbing sprays numb whatever they come into contact with-nipples, areola and potentially your baby’s mouth. Not ideal.
Tea strainers. Yes, you read that right!
Think nylon tea strainers rather that metal! When your bra is just too tight over your excruciating nipples, a strategically placed tea strainer over a hydrogel pad or breastpad provides a light relief. Think Madonna and her cone bra all those years ago!
Express and rest the nipple or grin and bear it.
As long as milk is being removed from your breasts, your supply will be maintained. Expressing and resting your nipple will allow the area to heal as long as you know the cause of why your nipple got sore in the first place.
Grinning and bearing it is often what happens and whilst this means you are still breastfeeding and maintaining your supple, you’re probably dreading each feed and you’re not enjoying something that should be enjoyable and painfree! Hardly seems the best option! Get yourself off to a breastfeeding professional/helper to assess whats going on.
Weaning your baby.
Whilst this is a valid option, it may not be a satisfactory one if you’re weaning just because your nipples are sore. If you are making this discussion because you feel that you and your baby have come to a natural end of your breastfeeding journey then rock on mama! If you want to continue, once again, go and see your jug heroes!
Advancedtissue.com (2014) ‘When and how to use hydrogel for wound care’. [online] Available from http://www.advancedtissue.com/use-hydrogel-wound-care/
(Accessed 21st August 2016)
Breastfeeding.ie (2010) ‘What is reverse pressure softening?’ [online] Available from https://www.breastfeeding.ie/Ask-our-expert/Questions/What-is-reverse-pressure-softening.html
(Accessed 21st August 2016)