Sore and cracked nipples while breastfeeding are one of the most common struggles for new moms, and they are also one of the main causes of moms ending breastfeeding early.
And it can be very painful and daunting to deal with cracked nipples. What can be done? What are the causes?
In this post I am going to share my personal experience on how I was able to heal my nipples and continue my breastfeeding process. Because as we always say, breastfeeding is a unique and diverse experience, and it should be lived on our own terms!
My name is Marta Aguiar and I am the co-founder of We Are Mammas. I'm the mom of two girls, Olivia, 6, and Mia, 9, and while I'm a strong supporter of breastfeeding, I know firsthand that breastfeeding isn't always easy. So I am delighted to share my story with you: exhaustion, latch-on difficulties for the first few days, cracked nipples, pain and more.
When I gave birth to my first daughter Mia, I was convinced that breastfeeding would be easy (my mother had told me that I breastfed and it was all very easy). I knew firsthand how beneficial (and comfortable!) breastfeeding is and was 100% confident in my ability to breastfeed (I know...how naive).
After a very long labor (in the maternity hospital in Barcelona I met 3 midwives... you can calculate the hours I was there), I was exhausted and my lactation problems began in the delivery room. Mia's grab wasn't right, but I was exhausted and couldn't face retrying the grab over and over again. I have to say that I thought breastfeeding had been around for so long that mothers should have a natural ability to do it... but I was wrong.
Within a week of leaving the hospital, Mia was a fussy baby (I have to admit, I think she was hungry...) I was still exhausted and my nipples felt like a hedgehog crawling on them 24 hours a day.
She was so desperate to make the whole process go as quickly as possible that when she started to breastfeed, she would let her stay on even if the latch wasn't right. And this ended up being a disaster. I started to panic before I nursed and broke out in cold sweats every time I saw Mia hungry.
At that point I started googling and discovered that what was happening to me was not exceptional. I tried every trick I could find, but my pain got worse as the days and weeks went by. Until it becomes unbearable.
Mia was born in December, it was Christmas and our house was filled with guests and relatives who wanted to meet Mia (she was the first baby in the family) and I didn't even have the strength to say no, it was as if I lived outside of my body and passed the day on autopilot. And it took a huge toll on me both physically and mentally.
HOW DID I GET MY SORE AND CRACKED NIPPLES HEALED?
Since giving up was not an option (I'm stubborn!) I did what I should have done at the beginning, seek the support of experts. Jordi from mamapit was my savior, he corrected Mia's grip and told me about braces (we'll do a specific post about them later). And once the issue of the frenulum, the grip and the position have been solved, we work together on the healing plan for the nipples.
Step 1 - Perfect grip
When Mia started to suck, she had to be 100% sure that there was a perfect latch. If we didn't start well, he would remove it and start again, until we got it. After watching hundreds of videos, I think that the one I leave you in the link below perfectly explains the gripping process. It was very difficult, because the grip was a very painful moment, I literally saw the stars.
Here I leave the video!
And I also leave you a super tip! I found that starting to nurse on the side that was "better" (less sore) and then moving to the side that hurt more helped a lot since the baby wasn't sucking as hard.
Step 2 - Take care of my nipples
Here I started my "healing regimen". And I was very strict, I didn't skip a take and I didn't allow myself excuses.
- Every time we finished, I expressed a little milk and let it dry on the nipple. Next, I would take a "bath" in a saline solution of warm water and dead sea salt (dissolve it in warm water and use 2 shot glasses to apply it. Warning! only 6-8 minutes!) and let them dry in the air.
- After that I applied a nipple balm (I think I've tried over 20 types over the 2 lactations) as the lactation consultant told me I didn't have any infections that required antibiotic creams.
- And I carried out this regimen religiously every time I finished nursing (it was a lot of effort, especially while learning how to care for a newborn, but I made it a priority).
And suddenly things started to improve, my nipples were healing, breastfeeding was much less painful, and I was starting to not dread the moment to breastfeed.
Ten months later, my daughter and I were still happily breastfeeding.
I share these tips in case they help you avoid an experience like mine, but my first recommendation is that you put yourself in the hands of professionals:
Every time you breastfeed:
- Make sure the grip is perfect. If you're not sure, see a lactation consultant.
- If the latch isn't perfect, try to correct it, either by gently opening the baby's lips, or by fully disengaging and trying again. Do not continue breastfeeding with a bad latch as it is the origin of the dreaded cracks.
- After nursing, make sure your nipples are dry (air dry is best).
- Apply a balm (better if it is natural and without lanolin) to help the regeneration of the skin.
Other recommendations to combat nipple pain or cracks:
- Talk to a lactation consultant to solve the problem. They can check various problems such as correct grip, tongue or lip, etc.
- Begin to breastfeed on the less painful side.
- Start breastfeeding at your baby's first sign of hunger to avoid eager sucking.
- You can try silicone nipple shields, but check with a lactation consultant first.
- After nursing, try applying cold to relieve pain. If you have wounds, avoid heat as it can lead to infection.
- If you use absorbent pads, make sure they stay dry and change them frequently.
- Use a saline solution if your nipples bleed or crack (never longer than 6-8 minutes)
- Use a nipple balm, as I have told you, after trying a lot we decided to create our own, natural and vegan. If you think you have an infection, do not self-medicate, consult a doctor first.
- If you are breastfeeding with pain, you should be aware that you will probably experience distress. This is normal and will go away as your nipples heal and breastfeeding becomes less painful (and it will be).
And remember that having a difficult start does NOT mean that you will not have a long and successful breastfeeding.
I hope everything I have shared in this post helps you on your journey. Do you share your experience with us?