Cracked or Bleeding Nipples: Causes, Signs and Treatment

How to Deal With Cracked or Bleeding Nipples

Medically Reviewed By
Shruti Kanchan (Lactation Specialist)
View more Lactation Specialist Our Panel of Experts

Breastfeeding a baby is not easy and most new mothers take some time to learn to breastfeed their little ones the right way. Once a mother gets the hang of it and the baby learns to latch on properly, nursing time offers a whole lot of bonding time for both the mother and the baby. However, breastfeeding is not easy for all moms. As a breastfeeding mother, you might enjoy feeding your little one but you may also have to face the unpleasant experience of sore, cracked, or bleeding nipples. It’s something that most moms have to endure for the sake of their little ones. If you have cracked or bleeding nipples, read on to know what could be the causes and how to treat them.

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. Cracked nipples could occur in breastfeeding women as a result of a number of causes which we shall be discussing in the next section.

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 on 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:

  1. Incorrect latching: Sore nipples may develop if the baby is not latching on to the breasts correctly. Changing the way the baby latches might fix the problem.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. If the flange size is incorrect and is pumped at uncomfortable speed and suction settings, it can cause cracked nipples too.
  4. 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.
  5. Tongue-tie in baby: If your baby has a tongue-tie, he 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, there is no room for pinching. In this position, the nipples won’t get injured.

Applying Creams

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.

Before Breastfeeding

  • 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 washcloth 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.

During Breastfeeding

  • Latch correctly: Ensure that the baby latches on to your breast correctly. Ideally, the baby should take at least one inch of the areola into his 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.

After Breastfeeding

  • 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 wear a well-fitting bra: Adequate support protects the breasts which are heavy because of lactation.
  • Apply breast milk: If you experience pain, apply breast milk on your nipples and around the nipples. Breast milk has excellent moisturising abilities, it will help get rid of the pain effectively. 
  • Air dry your nipples: Dry nipples are less prone to irritation and infections. So after you breastfeed and apply breast milk on to your breasts, let them air dry.

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 oil, sweet almond oil and coconut oil 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 it gets too painful and unbearable for you. Do not wait for the condition to worsen. Consult your doctor if your cracked nipples don’t heal soon enough.

Breastfeeding is a joyful experience for the mother and the baby. Enjoy it, and if the problems persist, consult a doctor or lactation expert.

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