A foray into breastfeeding often also includes one of the most surprisingly painful experiences: sore nipples. If you're an experienced breastfeeder who's wincing at the very mention of this, you're not alone. But that epic chafing doesn't have to mean an end to your breastfeeding days (although that's fine too, of course). Chances are, after a few weeks, your nipples will toughen up (charming, no?) and hurt less.
Past that, you may still experience soreness every now and then, particularly when your baby has a growth spurt and is eating more frequently or is cluster feeding. Thankfully, there are a few totally natural remedies that can help soothe your sore skin every step of the way.
Breast milk is one of those incredible things that work like magic on pretty much everything. According to Amy Mager, a Massachusetts-based lactation consultant, breast milk can “heal wounds. It is great to put on your nipples after you nurse — as long as you do not have thrush.”
There are a variety of nipple creams out there, and it pays to look at the ingredients before you buy. Make sure to stay away from any creams that include parabens, dyes or fragrances. And if the cream comes in a tub or jar, make sure to use a clean applicator or washed hands every time you reach in.
“Don’t use nipple creams unless you are comfortable letting your baby eat that product,” notes Connecticut lactation consultant Carolyn Levy.
According to Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website that rates skin care products, products from My Brest Friend, Motherlove Herbal Company and Finally Pure all scored a 1 (which means low hazards). Mager also recommends moms keep an eye out for calendula in creams; it can be a big help.
“Calendula is a premier herb to heal skin and lets the skin breathe,” she notes. Lanolin creams and ointments made with the oil from sheep wool are also helpful for rough and dry skin that is not raw.
3. Air-dry & avoid soap
After each feeding, allow your nipples to air dry rather than wiping them, says Levy. She also recommends not using soap on your nipples when you shower, as that can increase dryness.
Getting a good latch will not only make sore nipples hurt less during feedings, it may even prevent them from becoming sore in the first place. “The deeper your nipple goes into the baby’s mouth, the more comfortable the latch will be,” explains Levy. You can also change up your nursing position to find the best fit; try side-lying or "down under" (lying down on your back with your baby on top).
If nipple soreness persists or gets worse or your nipples become so cracked they start bleeding or blistering, make an appointment to see your doctor right away to rule out anything more serious.
Originally published October 2015. Updated November 2017.
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