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Breastfeeding the right way is a skill many new mothers take some time to learn. While breastfeeding is rewarding for both the baby and the mother, one of the most common problems it causes is sore, cracked or bleeding nipples. Let us look at the causes of cracked or bleeding nipples and how to manage them effectively.
What are Cracked Nipples?
When you begin breastfeeding, it is quite common to experience tenderness in your nipples. While a burning and stinging sensation, coupled with aches, is perfectly normal, cracked, bleeding or sore nipples may need a doctor’s attention.
Is it Normal to Have Cracked or Bleeding Nipples During Breastfeeding?
During the initial days of breastfeeding, babies are not used to breastfeeding and mothers find it challenging to teach them. Cracked or bleeding nipples can occur if a baby is not latched properly to the mother’s breast. Latching indicates the way a baby connects to his/her mother’s breast. Most mothers experience these issues during the first few days of breastfeeding and get over them after the baby learns to latch correctly.
Signs and Symptoms of Sore/Cracked Nipples
When you start breastfeeding, you might occasionally notice blood in your breast milk. However, if you have no pain, this discharge from your nipples during the first week of breastfeeding may just be bleeding caused by increased blood flow to the breasts and the growth of milk-producing tissue. This should clear up in a few days without any medical intervention. However, if your nipples are red, pointy and sore after every feeding (instead of being round and smooth) you may need to consult your doctor or a lactation expert.
Causes of Cracked Nipples
The delicate skin of the nipples may be affected by any or all of the following causes:
- Incorrect latching: Sore nipples may develop if the baby is not attaching or latching to the breasts correctly. Changing the way the baby latches might fix the problem
- Dry skin or eczema: Detergents on clothes, irritants from perfumes, soaps, creams and lotions, dry air due to the usage of air conditioners, coolers and heaters can cause eczema. This can lead to soreness of nipples
- Incorrect use of a breast pump:Incorrect use of a breast pump can cause injury to your breast tissue and lead to bleeding or cracked nipples
- Thrush: This is a yeast infection on the skin of the nipple that can also lead to soreness. The infection can also occur inside your baby’s mouth
- Raynaud’s Syndrome: This is a medical condition in some women wherein the nipple turns white after feeding and there’s pain when blood flows back in
- Tongue tie in baby: If your baby has a tongue-tie, he or she will face difficulties in feeding and tend to push the nipples with their tongue. This can lead to painful nipples and discomfort
Treatment for Cracked/Sore Nipples
Breastfeeding can be a challenge for a mother who has painful nipples. Breastfeeding treatment includes some simple and minor adjustments in the technique of nursing the baby which help you in avoiding injury or painful nipples. Let us look at some treatments for bleeding nipples that can help one get over cracked or sore nipples.
Correcting Baby Latching
Treatment of cracked nipples starts with the way the baby latches on. If the front of the nipple is in the baby’s mouth when latching, the mother will feel a pinch whenever the baby’s tongue comes up, causing discomfort to both mother and child.
However, if your baby opens his mouth wide and latches on to a part of the breast tissue, the nipple is comfortably placed in the back of the baby’s mouth, where the hard and soft palates meet. In this position, there is no room for pinching, and there is no injury to the nipples.
Many mothers apply lanolin ointment for cracked nipples. This treatment for bleeding nipples is also referred to as moist wound healing. It eases pain and allows the wound on the nipples to heal soon.
Avoiding Soaps and Lotions
It is advisable not to apply soaps, lotions or perfumes on nipples which are cracked or sore. Washing with plain water is the best treatment for cracked nipples.
Note: If you are using nipple shields, ensure that you sterilise them appropriately to avoid infections.
Managing Cracked Nipples
There are several simple ways to manage cracked nipples during breastfeeding. Treatment can be approached in some simple ways. Here are some pointers on how to manage cracked nipples during your nursing period, because with painful nipples, breastfeeding can be a challenge.
- Wash your hands: This ensures hygiene, and helps avoid infections and rashes
- Sit comfortably and relax: This helps calm both you and the baby, and speeds up let down (flow of milk) for effortless nursing
- Prepare for let down: To help milk flow, you can apply a warm wash cloth to the breast and massage it gently. If you have painful or cracked nipples, you can consider expressing the milk and feeding the baby. If you are expressing, ensure that the suction on your breast pump is not too strong
- Latch correctly: Ensure that the baby latches to your breast correctly. Ideally, the baby should take at least one inch of the areola into his/her mouth
- Stop when you are uncomfortable: If you feel uncomfortable after 30 seconds, take the baby off and allow them to re-latch. To break the baby’s suction, put your finger in the corner of their mouth gently, as pulling them off can cause injury
- Check if nipples are red: Redness may be the first signs of soreness, and noticing and addressing the problem will help prevent it from escalating
- Wipe the breasts with clean water and allow them to dry: This helps prevent rashes and skin ailments
- If you are using breast pads, change them frequently: Ensuring hygiene helps avoid painful nipples when breastfeeding
- Ensure you have a well-fitting bra: Adequate support protects the breasts which are heavy because of lactation
- Air your nipples: Dry nipples are less prone to irritation and infections
Home Remedies for Cracked Nipples
Before approaching a doctor, you can try a couple of home remedies for cracked nipples while breastfeeding. Some of them are already discussed in the above-mentioned sections. Additionally, you can:
- Express a little milk onto the nipple and allow it to air-dry. The antibacterial properties of breastmilk heal sore nipples
- Use an ice pack before you feed the baby. This numbs the nipple as you latch the baby on and is one of the easiest remedies for cracked nipples
- Oil Massage: Massaging with warm oil moisturises the affected area, keeping the skin supple and healthy by reducing dryness. Oils like olive, sweet almond and coconut are effective in moisturising the area and boosting the healing process
Preventive Methods for Cracked Nipples
Following are some of the preventive methods for cracked nipples:
- Babies have instinctive breastfeeding abilities and can latch on well to their mother’s breast with minimal help. So, allowing the baby time to learn and latch effectively can prevent the occurrence of cracked nipples. Babies who find it difficult to latch can learn easily with some help
- Monitoring baby’s hunger cues and feeding them on a timely basis will make it easier for the baby to get a good latch every time. A very hungry baby might grab the nipple, causing more pain
Does the Condition of Cracked Nipples Affect the Baby?
Generally, babies ignore cracked nipples, though they are painful for the mother. A little blood in milk will not harm the baby. If you can bear the pain, it is advisable to continue to breastfeed the baby. You should aim to help the baby learn to feed efficiently so that your nipples can heal. If it is extremely painful, consider expressing your breast milk and feeding your baby using a bottle.
When to Contact a Doctor?
While it is normal to have sore and cracked nipples during breastfeeding, make sure that you consult your doctor if they are very painful and do not heal for a long time.
Breastfeeding is a joyful experience for the mother and the baby. Enjoy it, and if the problems persist, consult a doctor or lactation expert.