Anyone who’s suffered from sore nipples can attest: It hurts. A lot. So much so, in fact, that despite your best intentions (not to mention a healthy dose of biting the proverbial bullet), you’re ready to give up. Don’t do it!
“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. Mild discomfort is normal in the first few days of nursing, particularly when the baby latches on. But tenderness that lasts longer than a week, or throughout the entire breastfeeding session, indicates a problem.
To avoid discomfort, research proper breastfeeding techniques before you have your baby. Take a class at your local hospital or through La Leche League International (lalecheleague.org). Also pick up a good book, such as Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers (New Harbinger Publications).
And if problems do arise, be sure to 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 ilca.org.)
Meanwhile, 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 discomfort.
1. A poor latch
The most common cause of nipple pain is an improper latch. Such discomfort is piercing, immediate and short-lived, typically occuring as soon as your baby starts nursing and gradually subsiding during the feeding.
When your child’s nursing, keep his head level with your breast; if you hold him lower, he’ll pull down on the nipple, which can irritate it. If necessary, place a firm pillow under the baby to elevate him to breast level. Also try gently pushing his chin down so he can get more of your breast in his mouth. It should be open enough to take in the entire nipple and a good portion of the areola (the dark area around the nipple).
Also known as tongue-tie, this is a relatively common condition in which the frenulum, the 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 have difficulty fitting your finger between his tongue and the floor of his mouth. If so, he may be tongue-tied; talk to your pediatrician. The condition can be fixed by snipping the tissue in a simple office procedure.
3. Yeast infection
If your pain is burning or stabbing and does not lessen as the feeding progresses, it is likely due to a yeast infection known as candidiasis. Yeast grows in warm, dark, moist places, putting nursing nipples at risk.