Are my nipples going to heal and how do I speed up healing?
While it is normal to experience some nipple tenderness up to 2 to 4 days after you first begin to breastfeed, nursing should not cause any pain or cracking and blistering at the nipples. If you are facing any of these problems, you are likely experiencing nipple trauma. 8-9 out of 10 breastfeeding women experience some form of nipple trauma, and this ranges from soreness to extreme pain.
Signs of nipple trauma
Apart from the pain and soreness that you experience during feeding, you may also notice some cracking or blistering. Pain is also often experienced when the traumatised nipple comes in contact with clothing.
Causes of nipple trauma
The most common cause of nipple trauma is an improper latch during feeding. This may be the cause of your problem if you notice that your nipple is flattened or indented at the end of each feed. These are signs that your baby is not taking in enough breast tissue into his/her mouth. Check with your lactation consultant to ensure that you are adopting the proper techniques for breastfeeding. On some occasion, an improper latch may also be due to a condition in your baby called tongue tie. Seek further advice from your doctor regarding this.
An improper latch may be exacerbated or take longer to rectify if your baby is given an artificial nipple too early, before proper breastfeeding technique is established. This results in nipple confusion because the method and tongue positioning in sucking a bottle teat or a pacifier is different from direct nursing.
Sore nipples may also be a result of improperly using the breast pump. You can hurt your nipples if you set the suction strength too strong, or if they come in contact with the breast pump flanges during pumping.
Other causes of nipple pain include engorgement and various skins conditions such as a yeast infection or allergies.
Risks of nipple trauma
Mothers experiencing nipple pain may be inclined to feed less often, or feed for a shorter duration. This does not allow the breast to drain fully and may lead to other problems such as plugged ducts, engorgement, or even mastitis.
Cracked or blistering nipples allow for bacteria to enter the breast tissue, increasing the chances for infection. If a mother has a yeast infection on her nipple, she can pass it on to the baby while she nurses. The infection can then be passed back and forth between mother and child and prolong the discomfort if both are not promptly treated.
Dealing with nipple trauma
To prevent the recurrence of nipple trauma, it is best to ensure that your baby is latching on correctly and is taking enough breast tissue into their mouth. Seek advice from your lactation consultant so that the root of the problem is addressed. To ensure that the corrective measures that you take are effective, avoid giving your baby any artificial nipples at least during the first 4 weeks. During this time, if your baby needs be soothed, instead of a pacifier, try offering the breast or a clean adult finger.
There are multiple ways to treat sore or cracked nipples at home. You can apply nipple cream that is made of 100% pure lanolin. This will help moisturise your nipple and allow it to heal faster. This cream is safe for baby as well. An alternative is to express a little breast milk, apply it onto the sore nipple and allow it to air dry. Breast milk has both antibacterial and healing properties. Applying a warm, moist compress to the nipple may also help with the pain. To reduce abrasion on the nipples, try not wearing a bra for a while or use breast shells.
While the nipples heal, the discomfort experienced during nursing can be reduced. If the pain in the nipple is due to engorgement, hand-express a little milk to soften the nipple before latching on your baby. Have your baby nurse from the breast that is less sore. Do not wait till your baby is very hungry before nursing. Those experiencing severe pain may opt to use a nipple shield. When doing so, ensure that the baby is still latching on correctly and has their mouth covering not just the nipple but also the part of the shield that is over the areola. Be careful not to overuse the nipple shield as this may affect your milk supply. Another option to pump milk from the sore side and continue feeding your baby from the non-sore side. You should, however, make sure that the nipple is positioned correctly, the pumping duration is short and the suction strength used is not too strong. If this is done while you are still trying to establish a good latch with your baby, the expressed milk can be given to them using a syringe or a cup.
Seek medical help if your nipple pain persists even after correcting your baby’s nursing position. The pain may then be due to a bacterial or yeast infection. Your doctor will prescribe the appropriate antibiotics or antifungal medication. Be sure to keep the nipple area clean by changing nursing pads regularly and rinsing the area with water after every feed. Allow the nipple to dry before putting clothing back on. It is important not to leave breast milk on the nipple if you have a yeast infection because the fungus thrives in human milk and moist areas.