Are you dreading every time you have to latch your baby on for a breastfeed? Holding your breath and wincing as their little mouth closes over your sore nipple and the pain shoots through you?
When you’ve got sore nipples, breastfeeding is the WORST. It’s such a delicate balance that you can easily end up in agony – with nipples you don’t want to put anywhere near a baby’s mouth.
Maybe you’re feeling frustrated and not sure what to do next – wondering what actually works for sore nipples or whether you can use vaseline or nipple shields?
I’ve got some great tips for you here today for sore nipples from nursing – ideas that helped me push through and get to the good bit. The bit where you don’t think about pain – because there isn’t any.
Note: I’m not a medical professional and this should not be taken as medical advice.
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1. First, figure out why your nipples are sore
Many moms find breastfeeding sore to begin with. Your nipples are just not used to being used like this and it takes a little time for them to adjust.
Plus your babe is a rookie breastfeeder who’s still learning the ropes so their technique might not be perfect just yet.
So if you’re in the first couple of weeks and your nipples are stinging like they’re grazed (OW!), it might just take a little longer to get to where it’s ok. I know that’s not very comforting but it’s true – and the tips below will help.
Is there a deeper reason for your nipple pain?
If you’re in a lot of pain, see your provider or a lactation consultant. Sometimes, even with a second or third baby, you can’t see yourself what’s going wrong and need expert eyes.
I had to get help with my third baby – and I felt like I shouldn’t need to but I couldn’t fix the pain myself. The support I got made such a difference.
You might need to improve your latch or adjust how you’re positioning your little one for breastfeeding slightly. With one of my babies, I just wasn’t holding her close enough, and once I did the pain got a lot better.
It’s definitely worth getting help so don’t try to do it all on your own. Other issues like thrush and tongue tie could be causing your pain and you need to rule them out.
Sore nipples: breastfeeding tips
Once you figure out why you’ve got sore nipples, breastfeeding should get a lot better. You can soothe the pain while you heal with a few simple steps. Here’s how.
2. Adjust your nursing position
Changing position can help more than you think. If you are breastfeeding in a chair, try sitting up in bed or lying down. Reclining with your baby belly down on your front works great for a lot of moms too. And if a position is not working for you now, come back and try it again in a few weeks. Until my baby was ten weeks old, I could NOT feed her lying down but later on it was our favourite position.
Hold baby tighter or higher
A tiny change can make a big difference to how breastfeeding feels, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Holding baby closer or using pillows to bring them higher might help them latch better and ease your nipple soreness.
Try a quality nursing pillow
A good nursing pillow can help because it holds your baby in the right position to get a great latch. When your baby is curled in towards your body with their head supported, latching on will be so much easier. For months, I used mine for just about every feed.
3. Use expressed milk to soothe sore nipples
Try rubbing drops of expressed milk gently into your sore nipples. With it’s wonderful healing properties, your own milk is great for keeping delicate nipple skin healthy.
The fat in the milk helps to moisturise and breastmilk is great for healing (source) so often it’s all you need. Just express a few drops at the end of the feed and apply to the nipples then let it dry before you put your bra back on.
But, if you are in a lot of pain, it might not be enough. When nipple pain is really bad, you might need to try moist healing, where you try not to let the sore nipples become dry.
What is moist healing?
Moist healing means keeping a wound moist instead of letting it dry out and form a scab. It can help wounds heal faster because the body is focused on healing only instead of healing and protecting. (Source)
Moist healing of sore nipples means not letting your nipple skin become dry. To make that happen, you need to apply something to those poor, sore nipples to keep them moist while they heal.
(Bear in mind that if you think thrush is causing your pain, moist healing won’t be the best choice because thrush fungus thrives in moist environments.)
Here are some things you could try:
4. Coconut oil for sore nipples
If you love using natural products for skincare, give coconut oil a try.
Coconut oil is a great choice if you’d like a natural solution to sore nipples from nursing. It’s a great moisturiser and because it’s basically a food, you don’t need to worry about wiping it off before nursing.
Simply apply a little coconut oil to each nipple and gently rub it in after every feed or change of nursing pads. You could apply a layer to the pad too for extra soothing.
It does absorb quickly, so if your nipples are already shredded, you may need to apply a lot – or go straight to Lansinoh (more about that wonder-cream in a minute).
But for mild nipple soreness, coconut oil is great – and much cheaper than lanolin.
5. Vaseline for sore nipples
Speaking of moist healing options that are cheaper than lanolin, what about good old petroleum jelly?
Using vaseline for sore nipples is a cheap and convenient way to keep the nipples moist with something you probably have at home already.
It’s easy to get hold of and the first thing I reach for when my lips feel dry so why not use it to keep sore nipples moist?
‘Can I put vaseline on my nipples while breastfeeding?’ you might wonder – after all, it’s pertoleum jelly, not natural coconut oil.
If you’re worried about using vaseline in breastfeeding because your baby might ingest some, take a look at this article from the Breastfeeding Network. It basically says that there’s no evidence that it’s harmful – special care units even use vaseline on the lips of premature babies and they surely wouldn’t if there was any risk.
You can always wipe your nipples before nursing again if you’re concerned.
6. Use lanolin to soothe sore nipples from nursing
A good nipple ointment can speed up your healing and lanolin is perfect (if you’re not allergic).
Slathering on a layer of Lansinoh lanolin ointment can make a difference in hours. It promotes moist healing and will ease the most sensitive nipples.
If you have any cracks in your nipples (poor you) then fill them up with lanolin to speed up the healing process.
And if you’re tired of products that promise but don’t deliver, this isn’t one.
I always bought several tubes in bulk to save money and make sure I never ran out – because when I was really struggling with sore nipples, running out of Lansinoh would’ve been a disaster!
Apply vaseline to your breast pads
Any ointment is absorbed into the breast pad quickly. If you’re finding you have to peel your poor, sore nipples off the nursing pad (ouchy) – put a little Vaseline on the breast pad as a barrier.
I found this really helped me avoid the problem of the pads sticking to me.
7. Try Jelonet for moist healing while breastfeeding
But the best thing for keeping nipples moist without ever drying out is Jelonet paraffin gauze.
When you’re in a place where cream just isn’t enough to heal your damaged nipples, this stuff will help. It comes in squares of super thin fabric gauze dipped in liquid paraffin and you’ll want to wipe before you nurse but it does the business.
Jelonet’s designed for healing burns and other skin damage, so it’s perfect for soothing sore nipples between breastfeeds. Place the gauze gently over your nipple and it will stick and mould itself to you. You’ll still need a breast pad on top to stop any leaking.
Because the paraffin is in the gauze, it won’t absorb straight into the breast pad and leave your nipple dry and sensitive. Instead your Jelonet square will keep the area moist and comfortable while you heal – and peel off easily when baby gets hungry again.
8. Should I use a nipple shield?
Maybe you’ve heard that nipple shields aren’t good for your baby’s latch and so aren’t a good idea. I was reluctant to try one but I did when my nipple pain got so bad, I could hardly face latching on.
If you don’t even want to bring your baby to the breast because it hurts so much, a nipple shield could help you keep going but using one is a whole new skill of its own!
The problem is, a nipple shield can feel like a big thing to try to fit into baby’s teeny tiny mouth. Even a gaping newborn mouth is pretty small but once you figure out latching on with a nipple shield, your baby will do the rest.
You need to tickle your baby’s chin and get the biggest, widest gaping mouth they can give you and then pop baby on the nipple fast.
Try to bring baby to you, chin first and not ‘post’ your nipple into their mouth because you still want to try for the best, most efficient latch you can get even with the nipple shield to protect you.
And if baby needs to readjust a little to get a better latch, they can do it without torturing you.
With the shield in place, it might be difficult to get the exact latch you’re looking for but you will be able to nurse with less pain.
Then, if your baby unlatches during the feed, you can try removing the shield because the first latch is often worse for a mom with sore nipples than latching later in a feed.
Once you’re used to a nipple shield, you can use it forever or wean yourself off. As long as you are comfortable and baby is gaining weight, it’s a personal choice to keep using a shield or not.
If you don’t think a nipple shield is for you but you’re in a lot of pain, you might need to take a break from nursing. (See #12)
9. Try breast shells
Want to protect your poor nipples?
These are great for thrush.
Breast shells protect your nipples while they heal by keeping everything away from them – even your bra. If you’re at the point where you don’t want ANYTHING touching your nipples these will help.
They keep your clothes away from your damaged nipples and the little holes allow air to circulate and encourage healing – and the shell also collects leaking milk for your breastmilk stash.
10. Change breast pads frequently
Especially in the early days when your milk production is crazy and you leak a lot, you need to keep changing those nursing pads. Warm, soggy pads full of stale milk are a breeding ground for infections (hello thrush) – as well as being pretty uncomfortable.
Change them whenever they feel wet to help your healing along. Often, if you have fed your baby from only one breast, the other will have leaked during the feed and need a fresh pad.
Over time, the leaking will settle down or even stop but you will still want to change breast pads often for your own comfort and for good hygiene.
11. Cabbage leaves can soothe sore breasts
Yes, it’s an old wives’ tale but a cabbage leaf is surprisingly comforting applied to sore nipples.
If your nipples are on fire and you’re upset and just need RELIEF, good old cabbage leaves are hard to beat. Put a leaf in each side of your bra right next to the skin and let the coolness of the leaf ease your nursing pain.
You might feel a bit silly with vegetables in your bra but that coolness on your damaged nipples will make up for it.
(Suffering from engorgement? Cabbage leaves can really soothe that too.)
12. Stop breastfeeding and pump for a day
If your nipples are so sore that you dread latching on and feel yourself pulling away from your baby, then try taking a break.
You might feel that you have to keep going but if you haven’t figured out the problem yet, more breastfeeding will just make your nipples hurt more.
Pump your milk for 24 hours, bottle or cup feed, practise moist healing and see your provider for help.
Taking a break won’t ruin your breastfeeding – in fact, you might find you feel more relaxed and enthusiastic about it than you have for a while.
Sometimes you just need to try a new nursing position
One of the best ways to make yourself more comfortable while breastfeeding is to switch position.
Sometimes, just having the baby’s mouth coming from a different angle will give you some much needed relief.