Just because breastfeeding is healthy and natural doesn’t mean that breastfeeding is easy—or painless! Managing the pain and difficulty of those early days is essential to meeting your breastfeeding goals. Here are my go-to tips when it comes to healing sore nipples. If you have sore nipples, you’re not alone. And we have good advice in healing sore nipples!


After you birth baby, ask your nurses to help you get started with breastfeeding. Getting a good latch with baby is essential for healthy breastfeeding. If it seems challenging, or seems painful, ask for additional help from a lactation consultant. Once you’re back home with baby you can also find support at a local breastfeeding support group or La Leche League meeting.


While you normally don’t need to use soap on your nipples (they’re selfcleaning, and soap tends to dry out the delicate skin), if you have damaged nipples, cleansing is essential for preventing an infection, like mastitis. Use a mild soap, and wash your breasts in the shower or bath, or soak them in a bowl of clean, warm water. Finally, be sure to always wash your hands (or use sanitizer) before touching your breasts, using your breast pump, or nursing your baby. Bacteria on your hands can get into cracked skin and increase your risk for infection.


After breastfeeding, apply a little expressed milk on your nipples and areola (the darker ring around your nipple (colostrum is perfect for this!), then let your nipples air dry. Once dry, apply a thin layer of coconut oil. Let this all air dry before you put your bra back on so that your skin doesn’t stick to your clothing. Trust me, you don’t want to have to peel away your healing skin the next time you take your bra off! For cracked, sore, chaff ed nipples, some women use lanolin or nipple bandages to support healing breast and nipple tissues.

Nipple shields

Modern nipple shields are made of thin, soft silicone, and when used appropriately, can be a wonderful tool to help keep moms and babies nursing. They add a layer of protection for badly damaged nipples. They can also help draw out and lengthen inverted or fl at nipples. More than just a good tool for moms, nipple shields help preterm babies and babies with tongue tie nurse. If you think a nipple shield might be just what you need, ask your nurse or lactation consultant for assistance. It is important that the shield be applied appropriately for it to work well.

Need a break?

If breastfeeding is just too painful, it’s OK to take a break and pump and supplement your baby with your expressed milk while your nipples heal. You may want to rest your nipples for a single feeding or for 24 hours or longer. Just be sure to pump every 2-3 hours around the clock so that you protect your milk supply and prevent engorgement. Finally, while it probably goes without saying, your nurses and lactation consultants are all eager to help you and your little one learn how to latch easily and comfortably. After you’ve taken your baby home, reach out to local breastfeeding support groups where you gave birth or at a La Leche League meeting. While breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t always feel that way. It’s a learned skill that you will perfect with time. In the meanwhile, ask for help! You and your baby will be glad you did.

Myth Busting Breastfeeding

 “If you’re doing it right it shouldn’t hurt.”

This is a classic example of blaming the victim. True, when breastfeeding is going well, it’s comfortable for both mom and baby. In fact, it can even feel good! However, there are at least two people in this breastfeeding relationship: The lactating person and baby. Just because the person with the milk is doing it right, doesn’t mean baby is. Don’t blame yourself if breastfeeding hurts. Get some help!

“That latch looks good to me. Are you sure it hurts?”

Gah! Nobody can see what’s going on inside the baby’s mouth while they’re nursing. The baby’s lips might be flanged, and the mouth might be wide, but if the tongue isn’t positioned correctly or if they are using their gums to stay latched, it can still hurt. Speak up for yourself! If it hurts, say so!

“Breastfeeding is just painful.”

The truth is, breastfeeding can be painful for the fi rst few weeks, until you and your baby both get good at this. There is a learning curve here, and the faster you and your baby master this new skill set, the faster the two of you can get on to enjoying your nursing relationship. And that is exactly what your nurses and lactation consultants are there for!

“It’s going to hurt until your nipples toughen up.” Nipples do not “toughen up.”

They get longer. Sometimes there can be a latching pain that lasts about 10-20 seconds as babies stretch the nipple deeply into their mouths. In these cases, breastfeeding is only uncomfortable for those initial seconds, but then the rest of the nursing session feels fine. That “latching pain” doesn’t typically last for more than 2 or 3 weeks. Once your nipples permanently lengthen (or evert, in the case of flat and inverted nipples), the stretching sensation will be a thing of the past.



Paris Maloof-Bury, CNM, RNC-OB, IBCLC is a certified nurse-midwife and lactation consultant at Sutter Health in Davis, CA.

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