Despite your best intentions, you're ready to give up: Breastfeeding has rendered your nipples a cracked and painful mess, and you can't take it anymore. Instead of treasuring those intimate moments of nursing your baby, you've come to dread them. But it doesn't have to be this way.
"Prolonged nipple pain is not normal and is usually quite fixable," says Christina J. Valentine, M.D., medical adviser for neonatal nutrition and lactation at Columbus Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Mild discomfort is normal in the first few days of breastfeeding, particularly when the baby latches on, Valentine adds. Tenderness that lasts longer than a week, or throughout the entire breastfeeding session, indicates a problem.
To avoid discomfort, research proper techniques before you have your baby. (Take a class at your local hospital or through La Leche League International, 800-LALECHE, lalecheleague.org; also pick up a good book, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics' New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding.)
And if problems do arise, address them immediately. "Don't wait a month to get help," says pediatrician Jack Newman, M.D., head of the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic in Toronto. "The earlier you catch a problem, the easier it is to fix." (To find a lactation consultant near you, contact the International Lactation Consultant Association at 919-861-5577, ilca.org.)
In the meantime, here's a look at the five most common causes of nipple pain, along with tips on what you can do to prevent—and ease—the discomfort.
1. Poor Latch
The most common cause of nipple pain is a poor latch. Such discomfort is piercing, immediate and short-lived; it typically occurs as soon as your baby starts nursing and gradually subsides during the feeding. When he's nursing, you'll want to keep his head level with your breast; any lower and he'll pull down on the nipple, which can irritate it. If necessary, place a pillow under the baby to elevate him to breast level. Also try gently pushing the baby's chin down so he can get more of your breast in his mouth--which should be wide open to take in the entire nipple and a good portion of the areola.
2. Ankyloglossia (aka "Tongue Tie")
Ankyloglossia is a relatively common condition in which the frenulum, a bit of tissue that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth, is too short to allow for proper tongue movement. This can contribute to sore nipples. Look to see if the tip of your baby's tongue is heart-shaped or if you can't easily fit your finger between his tongue and the floor of his mouth. If so, discuss this with your pediatrician; a simple procedure can fix the problem.