Dealing with sore nipples

by Kaiser Permanente |
In doctor's waiting room, mother kisses baby's hand.

Many people struggle with sore nipples when they begin breastfeeding/chestfeeding. In the first few weeks, you may feel a quick pinch or a burning or itching sensation when your baby latches onto your breast. These should all go away within a few weeks.

Using a good position and taking care of your nipples after breastfeeding can help prevent soreness.

Proper latching

Proper latching is extremely important. It helps ensure your baby gets the right amount of milk every time they feed. It also helps prevent problems like sore nipples.

To get a good latch, be sure to:

  • Sit in a comfortable chair. Place a pillow long-ways behind your back for support. Have your baby positioned on a pillow in your lap.
  • Cradle your baby with one arm while supporting the shoulders/base of the head with your hand. Support your breast with the other hand.
  • Gently form a “U-shape” or “C-shape” with your fingers, cupping your breast. Aim for your thumb to be in line with the baby’s nose.
  • Place your nipple on the tip of your baby’s nose and upper lip to encourage them to open their mouth.
  • When they open widely, gently guide your breast/chest into their mouth while bringing them closer to your breast with your hand that is resting at their shoulders and head.

Your baby’s lips should flare out around your nipple. It is ideal to see the top of your areola when the baby is latched since they are latched to the bottom 2/3 of your areola. When the latch is good, you’ll feel a gentle tugging on your breast/chest. You shouldn’t feel any pain or pinching with each suck. If you do, try tucking the baby’s chin into the breast and tilting their nose out. And most important, lift your breast from underneath with your middle or pointer finger to support the breast to go deeper in the baby’s mouth.

Caring for sore nipples

If you have sore nipples, you can try rubbing a small amount of your own milk into your nipples after feeding. Let your nipples air dry. Some people apply small amounts of lanolin cream to sore nipples and nipple butters are great for cracked nipples as they have healing ingredients. Adding breastshields with an ointment is a way to increase comfort and healing. Be sure to use products that are labeled as breastfeeding nipple ointments.

You can also wear gel pads instead of using ointments while your nipples heal. Your clinician may recommend taking an over-the-counter pain medication to help with the discomfort.

Preventing sore nipples

To help prevent sore nipples, try:

  • Allowing your nipples to air dry after each feeding.
  • Avoiding using soaps or other body cleansers that can make your nipples dry.
  • Wearing only 100% cotton bras.

When to contact your care team

You should contact a clinician if you notice:

  • A nipple that looks pinched at the tip.
  • Cracked, bleeding nipples.
  • Intense pain or burning in your nipples.
  • Nipple pain that prevents feeding.
  • Nipple soreness that doesn’t get better after a few days.
  • Red, itchy, or burning nipples that aren’t related to feeding.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.