Breastfeeding is the best thing you can do for your baby, but to be honest it’s not without a few hiccups along the way, one of them being sore and cracked nipples.
If you’ve hit this hurdle, don’t panic - it is just a phase and you’ll get through it with appropriate help and care. Just don’t suffer in silence: tell your midwife or doctor.
What's the problem? Your nipples feel sore, sometimes they crack and bleed too. It can hurt while you are feeding or in between feeds, and sometimes there may be an infection. Not what you signed up for.
What causes cracked nipples?
There are a number of possible causes but most commonly caused by:
Baby feeding technique: Let’s face it, most of us are unsure if we’re doing it exactly right when we start - we’re winging it with half an eye on the baby care manual. Whilst there is no set feeding position that works for everyone, it’s important that your baby doesn’t chew your nipple and cause pain. Ask your midwife or a lactation consultant to show you the correct technique.
How to take care of your nipples?
Get your baby on the breast right: Ensure correct positioning and attachment of your baby when feeding. Ensure as much of the areola (the pinkish brown area around around the nipple) is in your baby’s mouth. You may need more help if you’ve had a caesarean section.
Avoid soaps and shampoos on the nipples during showering.
Change breast pads frequently. Don’t use pads that hold moisture against the skin.
If nipple soreness is not improving, seek help from your midwife/ doctor or help from your midwife or lactation expert to teach you the correct technique.
Who can help?
Ask your midwife or doctor to show you how to position your baby. You could also consult with a Lactation Consultant or access lots of useful information from the Australian Breastfeeding Association
A Mum’s Tip:
I had cracked nipples after four days and it was really painful. I told my midwife and she showed me how to attach Lily properly and I carried on feeding. What really helped was squeezing out breastmilk over the areola after a feed. It contains lots of antibodies and helped it to heal.
Anna, mum to Lily, four months
Other breastfeeding problems
Aside from cracked nipples, other issues you may experience during your breastfeeding journey may include:
Nipple Thrush is a fungal infection caused by the organism Candida albicans. This fungus can occur in the nipples or breast tissue (as well as other places in the body). If you have severe, burning nipple pain for the entire breastfeed which does not go away even with correct attachment you may need to talk with a midwife or doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment of this condition will help to improve your breastfeeding experience.
What to do/Who can help: See your doctor or midwife to get a diagnosis confirmed. They may prescribe an appropriate treatment depending on the diagnosis. Wash hands thoroughly after each nappy change and sterilise dummies.
Nipple infections can be caused by bacteria such as Staph aureus which can be found on normal skin. The presentation of bacterial nipple infections can be similar to nipple thrush and is associated with nipple pain and soreness, which may be associated with pus like nipple discharge. Sometimes bacterial nipple infection can occur at the same time as nipple thrush.
What to do/who can help: Ask your doctor or midwife for advice on the best treatment. Options include antibiotic creams, or tablets in more severe cases.
Mastitis is the name given for pain and inflammation of the breast. The symptoms of mastitis can include hotness and tenderness of the skin on the breast, a red patch of skin that is painful to touch, a raised temperature and a flu-like illness.
Causes: Mastitis can be caused by blocked milk ducts (non-infective mastitis) or a bacterial infection (infective mastitis).
How to prevent: Breastfeed as often as your baby needs. Avoid long periods between feeds. Don’t miss or put off breastfeeds. If you have engorgement, try hand expressing in the shower or using a breast pump to remove some of excess milk from your breast. Thoroughly wash your hands before touching the breasts after a nappy change. Make sure the baby is positioned and attached properly on the breast. Avoid pressure on your breasts from clothes or from your fingers when feeding.
What to do/who can help: It is important to start treatment for mastitis immediately. See you doctor and if antibiotics are prescribed, take as directed.