If you decide to breastfeed, it’s a great way to nourish your ravenous baby. Babies are over the moon about milk, skin-to-skin bonding, and they’re even born with the instincts to nurse. Yet, most parents find the milk truck route to be anything but smooth – especially in the early days when you’re tired and still getting the hang of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. It’s normal to experience engorgement, infection, sore breasts, and nipple pain (OUCH) along the way. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 90% of breastfeeding newbies experience nipple soreness. When that tender skin starts screaming for help, don’t panic. We’ve gathered some quick, basic, and practical ways to ease the discomfort so you can keep your breastaurant open for business!
Here are 9 DIY ways to soothe nipple pain when breastfeeding:
#1 Lock that Latch
Feeding your baby shouldn’t be painful. If it is, the first thing to check is their latch. According to Today's Parent, the majority of sore nipples are caused by latch problems. When your baby latches correctly (aka securely attaches their mouth around your nipple and areola, creating a suction so they can start feeding) they’ll experience good milk flow and you won’t feel like you’re being eaten alive. A poor or shallow latch means they are only attached to your nipple, their cheeks and lips are sucked in, they aren’t getting enough milk, and you are in excruciating pain! This is not sustainable, mama! Check out this list of ways to ensure the best latch possible, then take a look at the super helpful video below:
- Always be on the lookout for your baby’s early hunger cues like smacking their lips, opening their mouth, sucking on their fingers, or moving their head side-to-side. If you wait too long, you’ll experience late hunger cues (such as scream-crying!) and they’ll be sooo desperate to eat that they might latch on quickly or loosely.
- A good latch starts with your baby’s mouth wide open (like a biiiiig yawn) and their tongue down. If you don’t get a good latch right away, that’s OK. Place your pinky finger in the side of their mouth to break the seal, then reposition them to relatch.
- Use good positioning (more about this in tip #2) and don’t be afraid to try various positions until you find one that feels good.
- To help your baby get a deep latch, gently “sandwich” your breast with your thumb and index finger to get it down to the size of your baby’s mouth – in this process, try to point your nipple toward their nose.
- After your baby latches, their chin should be buried in your breast, lips should flare out like cute little fish lips, and tongue should be cupped under your breast – and if your nipple isn’t far enough in their mouth, their tongue will rub against your nipple and it’ll hurt!
- Make sure your entire nipple and a good amount of your areola are covered by your baby's mouth.
- Not sure if they’re getting any of that liquid gold? If you see their tiny jaw and ear moving up and down, then you’re on the right track! If you hear a clicking, smacking noise, that could indicate a shallow latch.
#2 Get In Position
There is more than one way to hold your baby and situate your body when it’s feeding time. Learn and try out various breastfeeding positions (like the cradle hold, football hold, and side-lying position) to see what’s the most comfortable for you. Another benefit to switching it up? When you’re on a round-the-clock feeding frenzy, using different positions at each nursing session changes the distribution of pressure on your areola and nipple, helping to prevent chafing and sore spots. Check out this video with descriptions of the different positions, and don’t be afraid to try them all!
#3 Take Advantage of Breastmilk Benefits
Breastmilk isn’t just good for your baby. It’s actually full of natural skin conditioners and antibodies to fight infection, so it’s great for healing cracked, dry, and raw nipples. After your milk-drunk baby unlatches, hand-express some breastmilk and dab it onto your nipple and areola. Let it air dry before you secure your nursing bra.
#4 Go Coconuts
Between breastmilk and that coconut oil hanging out in your kitchen cabinet (yup!), you’ll never need to buy an expensive container of nipple cream. Coconut oil has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties that’ll speed up healing, retain moisture, and help avoid infection. Warm some up in your hands, then smooth it on after each nursing session. Best of all, it’s totally safe for your skin and for your baby so you won’t have to wipe it off before that next feeding!
#5 Warm It Up
Use the healing power of heat for quick relief. According to the American Pregnancy Association, warm, moist heat can soothe sad nipples and speed up skin healing. Soak a clean washcloth in warm water, wring it out, and place it over your nipple. Let it cool to room temperature and repeat!
#6 Cool It Down
Make a DIY ice pack to temporarily numb your tender skin right before your little one latches. Wrap some ice in a damp washcloth and lay it on and around your nipple (ie: anywhere that hurts!), then remove it just before your baby’s next meal.
#7 Get Salty
Using salt for skin healing is an ancient remedy and it’s super effective on your breastfeeding battle wounds. For cracks, abrasions, and broken skin, create a saline solution to apply AFTER breastfeeding. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt with 2 cups of warm water. Dip a clean washcloth or cotton pad into the solution, wring it out, and place it over your nipples for a few minutes. You can also add the solution to a spray bottle or peri bottle and gently spray or squeeze it over your nipples. When it’s time to nurse again, your baby might object to the salty taste – and if they do, just rinse your nipples with plain water and pat dry.
#8 Try a Couture Cabbage Bra
We aren’t crazy – while cabbage doesn’t work for everyone, some breastfeeders swear it helps their sore breasts (and science confirms that it’s worth a try)! Cabbage leaves have properties that can reduce swelling, so this at-home remedy can ease nipple pain caused by clogged milk ducts or engorgement. Simply place a cool cabbage leaf over your breast, secure it in your bra, and leave it on for 1-2 hours before swapping it out with a fresh leaf. Continue your DIY cabbage treatment until the pain goes away!
#9 Breathe While You Feed
It’s easy to tense up when it’s time to breastfeed (especially if you’re preparing for pain), but try your best to chill. Relaxing encourages milk letdown – which makes nursing easier on your baby and, therefore, your body! Before and during your nursing session, find your zen with some deep breathing, affirmations, meditation, or visualizations.
Additional Tips For Sore Nips
When your tatas are tender, give yourself some extra gentle TLC. As you work on improving your baby’s latch and trying different positions (both super important for relieving the pain!), try a few of these self-help ideas:
- If you’re nursing on both sides, know that babies suck harder and faster on the first nipple. So start them off on the least painful side.
- For unbearable pain, it’s totally OK to use a breast pump, manual breast pump, or hand-express to keep up your milk supply.
- For leaking nipples, stay as comfortable as possible (and keep potential infection at bay) by changing your breast pads after each feeding.
- Wear a cotton nursing bra to help air things out.
- When your nipples hurt, resist the temptation to keep feedings short and sweet. Instead, let your baby nurse for as long as they want (properly latched, of course) to maintain a solid milk supply.
- If your baby is using you as a human pacifier for comfort, but your nipples are not having it, let them suck on your (or your partner’s) clean pinky or index finger. Avoid using an actual pacifier in the early newborn weeks because it could teach your baby bad sucking habits that make it harder for them to latch.
- When you’re working with baby on their latch, avoid reaching for nipple shields or breast shells. While there’s a time and place for these, it’s not when your baby is still learning how to attach to your breast.
- If your nipple pain doesn’t improve or continues to worsen, there may be an underlying issue such as thrush, mastitis, or tongue-tie. They can be painful AF – but luckily you can work with your OBGYN, midwife or lactation consultant to find a solution! It helps to know the causes, symptoms, and cures ahead of time, so do some research online.
- Breastfeeding is anything but a breeze. It’s all too easy to form bad habits (we’re talking about both you and your baby!) and get really, really discouraged when things start off or suddenly become painful. If you can’t seem to alleviate your nipple pain on your own, reach out for help! Contact a La Leche League Leader, look for local breastfeeding support groups, or ask your pediatrician for a lactation consultant rec. You DON’T have to do this alone!
What are your tips for healing, soothing, protecting, and preventing sore nipples during breastfeeding? Please share your ideas in the comments!