Breastfeeding Problems

Overcoming sore, sensitive and cracked nipples

Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience, one that you will remember fondly and benefit from right away -- unless, of course, your nipples don't cooperate with your feeding schedule. It's not uncommon for new moms to suffer through cracked, bleeding and painfully sensitive nipples when they begin to breastfeed, which can interfere with frequent nursing and disrupt your comfortable routine.

Luckily, many of these nipple problems will disappear as you and your breasts adjust to nursing, but you'll need some relief in the meantime. The first step is to determine the root of the discomfort so you know what you're treating, and then you can turn to some trusted remedies that have been perfected by other moms and experts. But remember that while most problems are temporary and short-lived, persistent and severe pain could indicate a condition that runs deeper than you imagine, so be sure to visit your doctor if you're concerned about your breast health.

Nipple Problems

The majority of nipple problems show up in the first days of breastfeeding and many can be traced to latching issues. Hormones in the first week or so after delivery will lead to nipple tenderness, and you can bet that vigorous sucking, excess moisture and imperfect positioning will only aggravate the discomfort. Cracked nipples are one of the most common complaints, and in addition to being quite painful, they can also lead to infection.

Thrush and mastitis are the most common breast infections that follow breastfeeding problems. Split, bleeding skin is the perfect pathway for bacteria to travel into the pores of your nipples or into clogged milk ducts, which can lead to pain, inflammation or flu-like symptoms that generally accompany infections of all kinds. Keep an eye out for itchy pink or red nipples and tiny white spots that are characteristics of thrush, and the inflamed lumps, shiny red skin and muscle aches that are common markers of mastitis.

Treating Sore Nipples and Mastitis

If you feel the sharp pain during feeding that signals cracked nipples, use a breast pump to empty your breasts completely after feeding and be sure to let your nipples air dry instead of rubbing them dry with a towel. Leaving a few drops of milk on your nipples after feeding may also help fight infection, and never use soap to clean your nipples in the shower. You can also make a soothing saline bath for your breasts by dissolving a teaspoon of salt in a bowl of warm water and soaking each nipple for a few minutes.

Finally, since poor latching is so often the cause of discomfort, slight changes in your positioning can make a world of difference. To avoid cracked nipples, have a nurse, midwife or lactation consultant sit with you when you are first breastfeeding to check that you are doing it correctly. Your baby's lips should be spread wide, like fish lips, not rolled under or pursed, and as much as possible of your areola should be in your baby's mouth. At the first sign of nipple pain, get help from an expert again. It is important for you and your baby to learn good latching technique, since the pain that results from improper positioning can lead some women to give up on breastfeeding altogether.

If your raw, cracked skin has led to infection of the nipple or breast, you will need antibiotics to clear up the condition. Mastitis will probably require both antibiotics and analgesics, but you'll be able to take these while you continue to breastfeed. As for thrush, both you and your baby will need to be treated with an antifungal medication or antibiotics (depending on whether it was a fungus or bacteria that caused the infection), since the infection can be passed back and forth. Regardless of what has caused your nipple problems, careful observation and early detection will help you avoid a lengthy battle with aches and pains while you continue to nurse your newborn.