BEFORE YOUR BABY ARRIVES:
Get to know your breasts a bit more! What are your nipples like? Some women have large nipples that stick out, others have smaller, flatter nipples and others have nipples that are inverted (go inwards instead of out – these can sometime cause some issues breastfeeding). Chat with your midwife if you have any concerns and find out what you can do to make breastfeeding easier.
Research has shown that there is benefit to ‘toughening up your nipples’ while you’re pregnant. Thank goodness for that – no having to rub your nipples with a rough towel! They will toughen up soon enough once you have a baby attached to your breasts for hours each day.
ONCE YOUR BABY ARRIVES:
It is very normal for majority of women breastfeeding for the first time to experience some degree of tenderness or pain when starting their breastfeeding journey.
You need to remember that your nipples are one of the most sensitive areas of our bodies, and add to that a baby sucking around the clock every few hours… there will naturally be a period of adjustment for your nipples.
If there are further issues with latching, issues with the baby (tongue tie, prematurity) then this can become increasing more painful causing cracks, blisters or grazing of your nipples.
Keep in mind that one of the most important factors in healing is to correct the source of the problem (whether it is a latch or positioning issue, tongue tie, thrush etc). Please ensure you seek further help from your health care provider.
When you start breastfeeding, start from the uninjured (or less injured) side first. Your baby will feed less or more gently from the second side. Be prepared that the initial latch or first few minutes will hurt the most and then it should ease a little. Sometimes trying different positions can be helpful at determining which position hurts the least while feeding.
So what can you do to prevent tenderness or treat your nipples if there is damage?
Use a natural nipple cream (Purelan, Lanisoh, Kawakawa balms, coconut oil etc)
These creams can be applied directly after a breastfeed and can stay on your nipples until the next feed (no need to wash them off). These options are good as a preventative and also as a treatment.
Get them out!
The air and some natural light will do wonders for damaged or sore nipples. Aim to expose your breasts / nipples for a little while after each feed.
Hydrogel breast discs
These were an absolute God-send for me when my nipples were damaged. I kept mine in the fridge or freezer as the cooling affect was bliss!! They help heal cracked and damaged nipples much faster than without. You do need to wipe your nipples with a warm flannel before feeding your baby if you have been using these. (Manuka honey gel pads are also a good option as well).
These are mini cups that are worn over the nipples, helping to prevent, protect and alleviate sore and damaged nipples. These are made of sterling silver which take advantage of the natural antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of silver.
This is a healing cream containing St. John’s Wort & Calendula. With its anti-inflammatory, natural pain relief and wound healing properties it supports the formation of healthy skin tissue and promotes skin repair. Pop on after each feed until your nipples feel more comfortable.
Apply freshly expressed breastmilk onto the damaged areas to help them heal by offering antibacterial protection. Allow the milk to dry before covering up. (If you have thrush, avoid this method as this this can make it worse).
You might find using a warm, damp compress (a clean flannel or cloth) soothing damaged nipples. Use this over your sore nipples for a few minutes after a feed and then gently pat them dry.
At times if the pain is becoming unbearable, using a nipple shield for a short period of time can give you nipples a little bit of a break from the direct friction caused from breastfeeding. Just be cautious that there are some risks associated with using nipple shield’s for a prolonged amount of time (trouble weaning baby of them, nipple / teat confusion & a decreased milk supply at times).
Ensure you wear fresh breast pads & change them when they become damp. Some women prefer to use breast shells to protect the nipple from friction of a bra/breast pad.
Remember that if pain persists don’t be afraid to seek further help from your midwife or lactation consultant (LC). Most hospitals & birthing centres have funded LC’s you can see at a clinic, or there are private LC’s you can have come into your home.