Breastfeeding Survival Guide: Tips to keep your breast and nipples healthy when nursing

Breastfeeding is one of the most beneficial things mothers can do for their newborns. Breastfeeding passes on important antibodies, provides all the nutrition an infant needs for the first six months, and exclusively breastfed infants are less likely to become ill.

There are also numerous benefits for the mother. For example, breastfeeding helps new mothers lose weight; it helps the uterus contract back to its pre-pregnancy size and reduces postpartum depression.

Of course, not all new parents can breastfeed, and that’s OK; you must choose what is right and best for you and your child. 

If you choose to breastfeed, it is important to be aware of the challenges that may pop up along the way. 

Breastfeeding is a source of joy for many new mothers, but that joy can quickly turn to pain due to sore, cracked nipples. An improper latch is the number one cause of sore nipples, and if you are new to breastfeeding, you may not realize the latch is incorrect until it is too late. 

This guide will provide tips to achieve the perfect latch, advice on how to soothe and treat sore nipples, ways to prevent sore nipples and breasts, and where you can turn for help.

Proper Latch

An improper latch is the most common reason for sore, cracked, and bleeding nipples. Tenderness and mild soreness are normal when you begin breastfeeding, but it should not feel painful. 

Tips to achieve a proper latch

  • Use a nursing pillow for support.
  • Use a comfortable chair with back support.
  • Hold your baby so their tummy is facing yours.
  • Keep baby’s ear, nose, and hip in alignment.
  • Place your baby’s nose opposite the nipple; aim the nipple towards their nose and upper lip.
  • Keep your baby’s chin off their chest.
  • Grasp your breast using a C or U hold, keeping your fingers away from your nipple.
  • Bring the baby to you, do not lean in to meet the baby

Signs of a proper latch

  • Your baby’s tongue is seen when the bottom lip is pulled down.
  • Their ears wiggle while nursing.
  • There are no clicking or smacking noises.
  • Their jaw moves in a circular movement rather than a rapid chin movement.
  • Their cheeks are rounded.
  • You can hear swallowing.
  • Your baby’s chin is touching your breast.
  • When your baby comes off the breast, the nipple is not flattened or misshaped.
  • Any discomfort ends quickly after getting the baby latches on
  • Your baby ends the feeding with signs of satiety: the baby looks relaxed, “falls” off the breast, has open hands, and falls asleep.

Soothing Sore Nipples & Breasts

Some breast tenderness and nipple soreness is expected when you begin nursing; sore nipples may last a week or two until they are accustomed to the nursing process. In the meantime, here are some things you can do to alleviate soreness and tenderness.

  • Apply lanolin or nipple cream. Lanolin is safe for your baby, so you can apply it shortly before or after nursing. In more severe cases such as cracked or bleeding nipples, your doctor may prescribe medicated nipple cream. 
  • Pump every other session and offer a bottle. Not only does it give your nipples a chance to recuperate, but your partner can also take part in feeding the baby.
  • Use cooling gel nipple pads after nursing or as needed.
  • After nursing, rub some breastmilk into your nipples and allow it to air dry.
  • Express a small amount of milk to relieve engorgement. If your baby sleeps a long time or their feedings begin to space out, engorgement can be an uncomfortable side-effect. 
  • Take a warm shower and allow the water to soothe your sore nipples or engorged breasts.
  • Wear a supportive nursing bra, even when sleeping
  • Continue to breastfeed. Even though it may feel uncomfortable, it is like building up calluses when playing an instrument or using a tool. If you carry on through the soreness, it will improve.

When and Where to Seek Help

Sometimes, over-the-counter remedies and online advice aren’t enough to fix your nipple or nursing issues. In those instances, it is time to turn to your doctor or contact a lactation consultant. 

A lactation consultant is a healthcare professional who is a breastfeeding specialist. In some cases, lactation consultants are registered nurses, but that is not required. Look for location consultants with the lettering IBCLC after their name; this means they are an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. 

When to seek professional help:

  • You have painful, cracked, or bleeding nipples.
  • You have inverted or flat nipples.
  • You had previous breast surgery.
  • You don’t feel like nursing is progressing well.
  • Your baby is not latching on correctly.
  • Your baby stops feeding after 10 minutes.
  • Your baby develops jaundice (a yellow tint to the skin and lethargy are signs).
  • Your baby demonstrates frustration when trying to feed: crying, fussing, finger sucking.
  • You have engorged or painful breasts.

Nursing your new baby is a special bonding time, but if you’re experiencing discomfort or pain, it can be challenging to enjoy that bond. Never hesitate to seek help if something is causing pain or simply feels off. The sooner you alleviate any nipple or breast discomfort, the sooner you can enjoy the magic of breastfeeding your baby.

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