Cracked Nipples

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated March 3, 2013.

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Breastfeeding should not be painful.  Though it is normal to feel as if it’s a strange, new sensation in the early days of breastfeeding, your nipples should not be in pain, nor should you have damaged or cracked nipples.  If they are, it is important to take measures to remedy the situation quickly.

 Symptoms

  • Toe-curling pain
  • Dread of nursing because of intense pain
  • Pain that lasts beyond baby latching on
  • Burning sensation between breastfeeds
  • Lipstick shaped nipple when baby comes off breast
  • Cracking/bleeding on nipple
  • Compression stripe across nipple

Causes of Cracked Nipples

There are many reasons for nipple pain.  Some involve the baby, others the mother, and some both.    Once the cause of nipple damage has been identified, it can be removed and the mother can then focus on helping her nipples to heal – while continuing to breastfeed.

Below are possible reasons for nipple pain while breastfeeding:

  • Baby’s oral anatomy – e.g. tongue tie, high palate, cleft palate, etc.
  • Fast milk flow – baby chomps, bites, and/or squeezes on nipple to slow milk flow
  • Shallow latch – from baby’s oral anatomy, positioning at breast, engorgement, large nipples/small baby, etc.
  • Positioning and attachment
  • Inverted nipples
  • Breast pump having too strong/weak suction and/or improperly fitting flange
  • Nipple vasospasm (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
  • Baby biting nipple which may then allow infection
  • Dermatological condition

Treating Cracked Nipples

Once the cause is identified and removed, healing the nipple can usually be quick and easy. The best practice is to apply warm water compresses to relieve pain and then breast milk on the affected areas.  Breast milk has amazing, anti-infective properties that help to heal cracked nipples.  Allowing the breast to air dry, going without a bra or tight-fitting clothes is also helpful.  Once the cause is identified and removed, cracked and painful nipples should begin to heal immediately, even with continued breastfeeding.  You should have noticeable improvement within 24-48 hours.

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