How Long Do Cracked Nipples Take to Heal When Breastfeeding?
Cracked nipples while nursing is normal, but how long do cracked nipples take to heal when breastfeeding? Read on to learn more.
By OBGYN and fertility specialist Dr. Kenosha Gleaton
A common problem for those pregnant or recently postpartum is cracked, dry, and sore nipples. If you’ve noticed bleeding, dry skin, or itchiness and are preparing to or are currently breastfeeding, know that you aren’t alone. We will review a few ways to treat cracked nipples that may help speed up the healing process.
Is it normal to have cracked nipples when breastfeeding?
Nipple pain and nipple fissures occur in 80 to 90% of those breastfeeding. This is a common issue experienced by many and shouldn’t immediately be cause for concern. Breastfeeding can lead to itchiness, sores, and cracks around the nipples as your body adjusts to regularly feeding your baby and finding the most comfortable feeding positions. If you’re noticing a lot of pain or discomfort or feel like your baby may not be getting enough milk, be sure to mention this to your healthcare provider.
What causes cracked nipples when breastfeeding?
When you begin breastfeeding it’s normal to experience aching, sore, or otherwise uncomfortable sensations around your nipple and breast. After a while your body will get more accustomed to breastfeeding and these sensations should start to resolve. If you’re experiencing additional nipple soreness, dryness, cracking, or pain, it’s likely that your baby isn’t attaching to your breast properly. If your baby is properly attached, the nipple should be against the soft palate in the back of the mouth, with the mouth encircling the areola. A poorly attached infant may result in the nipple being pinched, causing pain, soreness, nipple damage like misshapen or discolored nipples, and could potentially lead to an infection such as mastitis. If you’re experiencing pain when your baby first attaches, it’s best to stop and readjust until you find a comfortable position.
How long do cracked nipples last?
Cracked nipples are a common occurrence for many, sometimes beginning during pregnancy, but most often beginning after breastfeeding. You should expect some initial discomfort for a few weeks as your body adjusts to a suckling baby, but most nipple fissures will begin to heal after a few days, with deeper fissures needing one to two weeks to heal. Make sure you’re taking care of your nipples in between feeds to encourage healing, and tell your doctor immediately if you experience a fever or inflammation around the breasts.
Remedies to help cracked nipples
If you’re experiencing cracked, dry, and sore nipples, there are a few things you can try to encourage healing:
- Proper attachment: If you’re noticing pain or discomfort when you’re nursing, you should first make sure that your baby is attaching to your breast properly. A lactation consultant or other healthcare provider can help you find a comfortable feeding position that will encourage proper attachment. You might also consider using a nipple shield or breast shield, which holds the nipple in an extended position, providing a larger area for your baby’s mouth to latch onto.
- Nipple creams and ointments: There are many over-the-counter nipple balms available to help moisturize and protect the skin. Make sure you’re buying a nipple cream, balm, or ointment that is safe for yourself and your baby. Natural and safe ingredients to look for include grape seed oil, beeswax, shea butter, coconut oil, and tocopherol. Natalist Nip & Lip Balm conditions and sooths skin and contains all natural ingredients
- Use your milk: Breast milk is full of nutrients and healing properties that can benefit yourself and your baby. Dab a small amount of milk on your nipples after you breastfeed to help soothe any fissures and promote healing.
- Take a break: It can be hard to back down from breastfeeding, but if it’s becoming too painful for you to continue or if your fissures aren’t healing, it may be best to use a breast pump or express by hand for a few days and give your nipples time to heal.
- Give them some air: After you breastfeed, wipe your breasts with clean water, use a warm compress to ease any breast pain, and let your nipples air dry without any friction. If you must, put on a clean bra that is well fitted and made of breathable fabric.
When to seek help from your healthcare provider
It’s important that you and your baby stay happy and healthy! Cracked nipples are a common experience for newly postpartum parents and shouldn’t immediately be cause for concern. If you feel your baby isn’t getting enough nutrients or isn’t attaching to your breast properly, don’t be afraid to reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance.
Another complication of cracked or damaged nipples is potential infection. Make sure you are examining your breasts and nipples regularly and contact your provider if you notice any of the following:
- Fissures or cracks aren’t healing after one week
- Any signs of nipple infection, including a fever or warm nipple, swelling around the nipple or breast, oozing, redness, or inflammation
- Extreme pain or discomfort
Formula can be a helpful substitute or supplement to breastfeeding if breastfeeding becomes too painful, difficult, or emotionally taxing. It’s important to maintain your mental and physical health as well as the health of your baby!
- Nipple pain and nipple fissures occur in 80 to 90% of those breastfeeding
- It’s normal to experience some discomfort the first few weeks of breastfeeding as your body adjusts to feeding your baby
- Poor attachment to the breast while breastfeeding is a likely cause of nipple pain
- Most nipple fissures will begin to heal after a few days, with deeper fissures needing one to two weeks to heal
- Ensuring proper attachment, using nipples creams or ointments, using your milk supply, and taking a break from breastfeeding are all great ways to soothe sore, cracked nipples, reducing breast pain and promoting healing
- You should contact your health provider if you notice any signs of infection, if cracks don’t seem to be healing, or if you’re unable to breastfeed due to pain or discomfort
- If breastfeeding is becoming too painful, stressful, or draining for you, formula can be a great option.
- Niazi A, Rahimi VB, Soheili-Far S, et al. A Systematic Review on Prevention and Treatment of Nipple Pain and Fissure: Are They Curable? Journal of Pharmacopuncture. 2018;21(3):139-150. doi:https://doi.org/10.3831/KPI.2018.21.017
- Banginwar A, Toweir A, Goyal R, Ziyo F. Breastfeeding practices: Positioning, attachment (latch-on) and effective suckling - A hospital-based study in Libya. Journal of Family and Community Medicine. 2011;18(2):74. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/2230-8229.83372
- Krogerus C, Wernheden E, Hansen LB. [Mastitis]. Ugeskrift for Laeger. 2019;181(47):V07190396. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31791447/
- CDC. What to Expect While Breastfeeding. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published February 24, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/InfantandToddlerNutrition/breastfeeding/what-to-expect.html