You may experience sore nipples when breastfeeding or post breastfeeding, but what is the proper sore nipple treatment? Read on to learn more.
By OBGYN and fertility specialist Dr. Kenosha Gleaton
Not all nipples are created equal—but anyone can experience sore nipples. Let’s talk about the when, why, and what of treating painful or sore nipples.
Things that may cause sore nipples
If you are new to breastfeeding, it’s very likely that you’ll experience nipple soreness in the first week of nursing. Around 80-90% of new moms experience nipple soreness or cracked nipples, with discomfort peaking around day five. This nipple pain is likely a temporary side effect of your body becoming accustomed to breastfeeding.
If you’re not currently nursing or are noticing soreness beyond the first week of nursing, there are a few other potential causes. 70% of women report experiencing breast pain at some point in their lives, with the majority experiencing recurring pain. Friction, infections such as thrush or mastitis, hormonal changes, and improper latching can all lead to sore or painful nipples.
Can you have sore nipples during pregnancy?
Sore nipples during pregnancy are common and could be caused by a variety of things. Hormonal changes are the most likely cause, as tender breasts are one of the first signs of pregnancy. Progesterone levels increase to support pregnancy growth and to eventually encourage your body to prepare for lactation. Your milk ducts begin to grow and stretch as early as the second trimester which can cause discomfort along the side of the breasts as well as the nipples.
It’s also possible for friction or infection to cause sore nipples. While your body is adapting to pregnancy, your already sensitive nipples may not do well with loose clothing, exercise, or improperly fitting bras. Infections such as mastitis can also form before you start breastfeeding if a milk duct becomes clogged. It’s important to notify your doctor if you notice signs of an infection, such as a fever, red or warm breast, or swelling.
Can you have sore nipples during postpartum?
80 to 90% of those breastfeeding reported experiencing nipple pain during the first few weeks postpartum. This is a common issue experienced by new moms and shouldn’t immediately be cause for concern. If you’re experiencing discomfort or soreness within the first few weeks of nursing, your body is likely still adjusting to your baby feeding and the soreness will probably go away on its own. If you’re noticing sore or painful nipples that don’t seem to be getting any better, make sure you let your provider or lactation consultant know. They may want to observe how you’re breastfeeding to rule out improper attachment, tongue tie, or infection. If your baby’s mouth isn’t positioned on your breast properly, they can squeeze and irritate the nipples which can lead to a lot of discomfort. You should also make sure you’re breaking suction before pulling away from your baby as this can also lead to sore nipples.
If you’re not breastfeeding or if pain has continued past the two week mark, there may be other explanations for your sore nipples. It’s possible that you’re experiencing a symptom of PMS and could be starting your period soon. A rise in estrogen and progesterone before menstruation is a common cause of breast swelling and tenderness.
As stated already, friction and infection are also potential causes of nipple discomfort and should be considered. Make sure you’re wearing a well-fitted bra when moving around a lot, and be sure to see your healthcare provider if you notice any signs of infection such as redness, swelling, and fever.
Remedies to treat sore nipples
Reduce friction: Wearing sports bras or other well fitting bras can reduce friction and provide some relief to sore nipples. Try sleeping with a supportive bra designed for breastfeeding and lactation if you tend to move around in your sleep a lot.
Nipple creams and ointments: There are a lot of options when it comes to nipple creams, balms, and ointments. These can be especially helpful for those breastfeeding or experiencing cracked nipples as they moisturize and protect the skin. Make sure to check for all natural ingredients before purchasing any over the counter products. Natural and safe ingredients to look for include grape seed oil, beeswax, shea butter, coconut oil, and tocopherol.
Use your milk: If you’re producing breast milk, it’s often recommended that you express and dab some of your milk on or around the nipple. Breast milk contains bioactive components that aid in wound healing and fighting off bacteria.
Hot and cold therapy: Heating pads, warm compresses, and gel or ice packs can be very soothing for sore nipples. If you’re breastfeeding, using a warm compress before nursing and a cold compress afterwards can be helpful for widening your milk ducts and reducing swelling.
Supplements: A clinical trial found that some vitamins (E and B6) may be helpful for decreasing breast pain. Researchers are still trying to determine why, but we do know that many vitamins have anti-inflammatory properties that may be associated with decreased pain and soreness. Postpartum supplements such as Postnatal Vitamins may be a great way to get in all of your nutrients while supporting your body after giving birth.
When to seek help from your doctor
Sore nipples are a common occurrence for many women throughout our lives. Whether you’re on your period, pregnant, or postpartum, there are many reasons you could be experiencing nipple soreness. Make sure you’re keeping track of your body and keep an eye out for any signs of infection or underlying problems. You should see your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:
Cracks, discomfort, or soreness are not resolving within one to two weeks
Extreme pain or discomfort is preventing you from completing your normal routine
Fever, swelling, or redness around the breast
Pain in both nipples following breastfeeding
If you’re breastfeeding and feel that your baby is not latching properly or isn’t getting enough milk
Nipple soreness occurs in 80-90% of new moms and breast pain occurs in 70% of women
It’s normal to experience some soreness or discomfort the first few weeks of breastfeeding as your body adjusts to feeding your baby
Incorrect attachment while breastfeeding, increased friction, hormones, and infection are potential causes of nipple pain or soreness
Using nipples balms or creams, using breast milk, reducing friction, using warm or cold compresses, and taking a multivitamin are all great ways of promoting healing and reducing soreness
You should contact your doctor if you notice any signs of infection, you’re unable to breastfeed due to pain or discomfort, or if soreness does not go away after one to two weeks