Sore and cracked nipples are common amongst new mothers and can be quite painful. However, nursing shouldn’t be uncomfortable. In fact, pain is a warning sign that you might have a problem that needs correcting. The main reason for sore and cracked nipples is an improper latch, which can also cause severe nipple pain. Correcting your nursing technique can go a long way toward letting your cracked nipples heal. Sometimes, just the slightest change in positioning will make a lot of difference.

Using a breast pump improperly can also hurt or damage your nipples. Some women mistakenly turn the suction level up too high. To make matters worse, some pumps come with flanges (or breast shields) that are too small.

If your baby has thrush, which is a yeast infection in the mouth, he/she may pass it onto you, causing nipple pain or damage. Signs of thrush in breastfeeding moms include itchy, red, shiny, painful nipples and shooting pains in the breast during or after a feeding session.

Your nipples could also crack or bleed because of severe dry skin or if you have eczema. Eczema can show up as scaly, red patches of skin that may be itchy or painful. If you think you have eczema, consult a dermatologist.

Another possibility is that your baby may be tongue-tied. This means that the tissue connecting his tongue to the floor of his/her mouth is short or extends too far to the front of his/her tongue. This can cause nursing problems, including sore nipples, and can be treated with a minor surgery.

Ways to steer clear of sore and cracked nipples
While breastfeeding
1. Check your baby’s latch

The best latch position is off-center, with more of the areola below the nipple in your baby’s mouth. One way to achieve this is to line up their nose with your nipple so his/her bottom gum is far away from the base of your nipple when your baby opens his/her mouth. Once the mouth is open, hug him/her on quickly. Your nipple should be far back in your baby’s mouth.

2. Try different nursing positions

You may find that certain positions make it easier for your baby to latch on correctly and are much more comfortable than others. Try feeding your baby in that position.

3. Nurse on the less injured side first, if you have one

Babies often nurse more gently on the second side since they’re less hungry. Try feeding them before they’re too hungry.

4. Briefly apply a cold pack to numb the injured area before nursing

Cold can help dull the pain, particularly during the initial latch, which tends to hurt the most.

After breastfeeding
1. Clean your nipples gently

When you have a cracked or bleeding nipple, rinse the breast after each feeding with water to reduce the risk of infection. Once a day, use a non-antibacterial, non-perfumed soap to gently clean the wound and rinse well with water. Don’t use alcohol, lotions, or perfumes on the nipples.

2. Use an antibacterial ointment

If you have an open wound, your doctor will probably recommend an over-the-counter ointment.

3. Use medical-grade modified lanolin made for breastfeeding mothers

Rub a small amount of this over-the-counter ointment on your nipples after every feeding. This treatment relieves pain and allows the wounds to heal much faster without forming a scab. It does not need to be washed off before feedings.

4. Try hydrogel dressings designed for nipple healing

These pads are soothing and help the area heal faster. Try to avoid touching your nipple or areola before applying the pad because bacteria from your fingers can get trapped under the pad. Change breast pads frequently.

5. Take painkillers

Taking mild painkillers about 30 minutes before nursing can help lessen the pain and swelling.

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