New mums are often confused by how awkward and uncomfortable they find it to breastfeed their little one. Just like any other skill, breastfeeding your bub can take some time to learn. While there is no ‘right’ way to breastfeed, the ‘wrong’ way can quickly lead to dry and cracked nipples. Cracked nipples are one of the most painful things for a nursing mum. The red, irritated, or scabbed skin on and around your nipple feels sore and can be extremely uncomfortable. When your baby begins to nurse, they take some time and effort to latch on to the breast. The friction due to the nursing can irritate your nipple. It dries your nipple, causing cracked skin, and even occasional bleeding. Sore or cracked nipples make the future breastfeeding sessions uncomfortable for the mum.
Causes of cracked nipples
Mums are more likely to experience cracked nipples during the first month postpartum.
- Poor latch: It takes time for the baby to learn to latch on properly. The baby’s poor latch often leads to sore nipples. Using a bottle for supplemental feeding for your baby can increase the chances of cracked nipples. Babies use a different technique to suck on the bottle as compared to the breast. Increased bottle-feeding can increase the chances of nipple trauma in mums.
- Wrong breastfeeding positions: The incorrect technique and position used during breastfeeding can lead to cracked nipples. Uncomfortable and traditional breastfeeding positions can cause the baby to squash your nipple while feeding. These squashed nipples become painful and can restrict the flow of milk.
- Breast pump: Using a breast pump with a small pump flange can cause cracked nipples. Take your time to find the right-sized pump to express milk comfortably and efficiently.
How to prevent cracked nipples
You can prevent cracked nipples in several ways.
- Baby-led attachment: Babies instinctively know how to position themselves for a comfortable feeding session. Let your baby lead the way if breastfeeding feels awkward to you. Deep, baby-led attachment is painless and makes nursing comfortable.
- Different breastfeeding positions: Mums who are self-attaching can look for breastfeeding positions that feel comfortable for their nursing technique. Consult a midwife or a lactation consultant to find a nursing position that’s right for you and your bub.
- Supplemental milk: Avoid using bottles to feed babies who need supplemental milk at the beginning of their lives. Instead, use a spoon, cup or syringe to avoid interfering with the baby’s natural latch.
- Recognising early feeding cues: A distressed baby is more likely to latch onto your breast painfully. Offer a feed to the baby before they start crying. Understand the early feeding cues that babies give to have successful breastfeeding sessions.
How to treat cracked nipples
Treating cracked nipples takes some time and care.
- Emollient creams: Lanolin-based or coconut creams help soften the skin. Applying them onto your nipples after breastfeeding prevents cracks.
- Breast milk: Several mums apply breast milk onto their nipples and let it dry. It helps prevent the nipples from cracking and has excellent antibacterial properties.
- Corticosteroid creams: After getting approval from a healthcare professional, apply a corticosteroid cream onto your nipples to treat the cracks. Do not use such creams for more than two weeks at a time, as it can cause the skin near the nipples to thin out.
- Comfortable bras: Wear comfortable and well-fitting bras that support the new shape of your breasts. Avoid wearing tight bras that rub against the nipples and cause friction.
- Avoid drying substances: Do not use harsh and drying substances on your nipples. Avoid using soaps, body powders, deodorants, and other substances that increase the cracking in and around your nipples.