4 Essential Tools for Soothing Nipple Care After Breastfeeding

Ouch! Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. Temporary nipple soreness after breastfeeding, though, is common – especially in the early days as you and your baby learn to nurse together. Here’s what to know about preventing soreness, as well as 4 essential tools for immediate relief.

The Importance of Treating Sore Nipples Early

Breastfeeding is a beautiful bonding experience, but it’s normal to experience periods of discomfort too – especially in the beginning, as you and your baby are learning to breastfeed together. For most mamas, that can mean sore or chapped nipples. Worse yet, it can also disrupt even the best and most consistent efforts to establish a solid and healthy breastfeeding routine. After all, it can be understandably difficult to feel motivated to nurse if there’s discomfort involved during or after!

According to the American Pregnancy Association, about 90% of new moms experience some level of nipple soreness, which is most common in the first few weeks after birth. Rest assured you’re not alone, mama! Toss in all the hormonal changes you’re going through during that same period, and your nipples may be feeling extra-sensitive and sore.

“Ongoing pain and soreness are a sign that something isn’t right and shouldn’t be ignored,” said Jess Sember, MSN, RN, IBCLC, CCE, SPD, Clinical Education Manager at Medela. “Through prevention and working with your lactation consultant, you can remedy the cause before it results in more intense pain that may impact your milk supply and/or derail your breastfeeding goals.”

Tips for Preventing Sore Nipples After Breastfeeding

Practice a proper latch. Ah, the art of the latch! The biggest culprit behind sore nipples is often an improper latch and the position of your baby during feeding. For an effective latch, encourage your nipple toward the roof of your baby’s mouth so that they take both the nipple and some breast tissue into the mouth. It takes practice, so don’t stress too much if you don’t get it right away! If you’re having continued challenges, be sure to talk with a lactation consultant for one-on-one guidance.

“Air out” after a feeding or pumping session. Allow your nipples to air-dry as much as possible after breastfeeding or pumping. When dressing again, use fresh nursing pads and a clean, dry bra. Opt for a breathable nursing bra that allows air to circulate and features quick dry technology to help balance your body temperature.

Steer clear of harsh soaps or chemicals. Be extra-careful about washing with harsh soaps, shampoos or other bath products while breastfeeding. Same goes for the laundry products, such as detergent or fabric softener, used to wash your clothes – especially your nursing bras, tanks and other frequently-worn items. The chemicals in harsh soaps and other products could exacerbate any soreness or cracking.

If you’re pumping, double-check your breast shield size. Pumping also shouldn’t feel painful or cause nipple soreness. If you’re experiencing pain, cracking or bleeding while pumping, you’re likely using the wrong size breast shield. If your entire areola is pulled into the shield, then your shield may be too big. If your nipples rub against the sides of the breast shield tunnel, then the shield may be too small. If you suspect you’re using the wrong size breast shield, check our breast shield sizing guide and talk to a lactation consultant right away.

Get Relief with Soothing Nipple Care After Breastfeeding

Despite your best mama efforts to ensure a proper latch, aerate and measure for the correct size breast shields, you may still experience occasional soreness. Try some of these helpful products for immediate relief:

#1 – Nipple Balm

Before applying any product to your nipples, make sure it’s natural and safe for you and your baby. This certified organic and vegan nipple balm offers instant relief for soreness and does not require you to wash it off before feeding or pumping. Made from a blend of olive oil and calendula, an herbal plant with hydrating properties that help rejuvenate irritated skin, this lightweight balm is made without fragrances, parabens, additives, alcohol, BHT, palm oil and GMOs.

The airless pump tube means the balm is protected from oxidation and outside elements, so you don’t have to worry about contamination. This balm is a great tool to have at home or tucked into your purse or breast pump bag for easy access throughout the day. Best of all, it also serves double duty for chapped lips and other sensitive skin problems (hello, dry winter skin!)

#2 – Massage Oil

A high-quality, all-natural massage oil can also help ease breast and nipple soreness. Medela’s breast massage oil is certified organic and vegan, so it’s safe for baby and free of parabens, additives, preservatives and fragrances. This fast-absorbing oil is a blend of avocado oil and ginger oil, and provides a warming sensation for instant relief.

Just massage in a few drops by gently massaging into your breast in a circular motion, which soothes soreness and triggers oxytocin to support your natural let-down reflex.

#3 – Hydrogel Pads

Comforting slices of cooling paradise for tender nipples? Yes, please! Our hydrogel pads are large enough to cover the entire nipple and areola with an immediate cooling effect. They form a protective cushion for sensitive nipples and are reusable for up to 24 hours.

#4 – Breast Shells

Breast shells are an effective tool for protecting your sore nipples. Worn under your bra, they help soothe sore nipples, protect from additional irritation to allow your nipples to heal and also help mothers with flat or inverted nipples nurse their little ones. Vented for proper air circulation and designed to support a natural appearance under clothing, breast shells can be worn under your bra in between feeding or pumping sessions or until your soreness subsides.

Bonus – Additional Soothing Techniques!

Here are two more soothing techniques that could bring you additional relief:

  • Try soaking your nipple in a bowl of water with salt for a few minutes after feeding. Just add 1/2 teaspoon of salt into about a cup of warm water and soak.
  • Apply some of your expressed breast milk directly to the nipple – Breast milk acts as a natural moisturizer and can even help prevent infections!

More Resources for Nipple Care After Breastfeeding

Still have questions? That’s okay! Reach out to a board-certified lactation consultant. Through our complimentary Ask the LC service, you can connect via e-mail to get your questions answered one-on-one.

You can also peruse our Breastfeeding Guide for clinically reviewed articles like these tips for making breastfeeding more comfortable or learning about possible causes behind your nipple soreness.

When to Seek Help for Your Sore Nipples

Most likely, your nipple soreness is temporary and a result of improper latching. However, if your pain intensifies, you feel a burning sensation or you have cracking or bleeding, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider or lactation consultant so you don’t have to put a pause on your breastfeeding journey.

In less common scenarios, sore nipples could be the result of other skin conditions. Skin issues like psoriasis, thrush or eczema could cause sore nipples.

Additionally, sometimes latching challenges and nipple soreness can be traced to a tongue tie issue, which means your baby can’t lift their tongue properly to get your milk out – in turn causing nipple soreness. Consult with your pediatrician if you suspect tongue tie, which can often be remedied with a quick, simple procedure.

“Most importantly, don’t give up!” Jess Sember continues. “Breastfeeding is a learning process for you both. There’s always something that can be done to get you back on track and keep your motivation and milk flowing.”

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