How to Relieve Sore Nipples When Breastfeeding

By Tanya Konerman
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As a nursing mom, you might experience some nipple discomfort during breastfeeding, especially at the outset. For basic nipple tenderness, try to isolate the cause of the discomfort; you will then be able to take simple steps to ease the soreness and make breastfeeding a pain-free endeavor.

Establish Causes

A small amount of nipple soreness when first beginning to nurse is normal. If it persists beyond the first few days, however, becomes severe, or develops after an established period of pain-free feeding, see your doctor or lactation consultant right away. Your baby could be latching on or sucking improperly, or you could have blocked milk ducts or an infection, such as mastitis or thrush, according to WebMD. A medical professional can help you correct these issues so you can breastfeed comfortably.

Proper Skincare

Care of your breasts is paramount to comfortable breastfeeding. For instance, using soap directly on your nipples can dry out the natural oils of your areola and cause dry and cracked nipples. The website AskDrSears recommends massaging a few drops of breast milk around your nipples and areola to heal and moisturize irritation. La Leche League International suggests applying a moist, warm compress to your nipples to help ease pain. When you are done nursing, be sure your nipples are dry by air-drying them. Avoid quick-dry methods such as using a hair dryer, which can cause nipples to crack.

Helpful Ointments

If your nipples are already dry or cracked, treat the problem with ointments, the same method used to heal moist wounds. Don’t use any cream or ointment that is not safe for your baby to ingest, however. LLLI recommends covering your nipples after nursing with pure modified lanolin ointment or using a hydrogel dressing -- gel pads available at most pharmacies -- to promote healing without scabbing. Consult your physician or lactation expert for other recommendations.

Bras & Breast Shells

If you are still looking for relief from sore nipples, check that your bra is fitting correctly. It should not be so tight that it rubs against your nipples or compresses them, according to LLLI. Foregoing a bra at night and wearing only a cotton T-shirt can help with healing too – just sleep on a soft cloth or towel to absorb any leakage. And while wearing a bra, be sure to use a clean, dry nursing pad after each feeding to ensure your nipples are not staying too moist. Some nursing moms also find relief while wearing breast shells in their bra. Breast shells are designed to keep your bra’s fabric from touching your nipples, thus allowing greater air flow and healing.

About the Author

Based in Bloomington, Ind., Tanya Konerman is a writer/editor with more than 20 years of experience. Her work has appeared in "At-Home Mother," "Parents," "Career Woman," "Employment News," "Bloomington Business Network," "Bloomington Monthly" and the "Herald-Times." She also worked in advertising and public relations for 10 years. Konerman holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and psychology from Indiana University.