Treating Cracked, Bleeding Nipples While Breastfeeding

Woman nursing her infantBreastfeeding can be an incredible bonding experience for moms and their little ones, but from time to time, moms may encounter discomfort or medical ailments as a result. One woe moms may face is cracked or bleeding nipples. Experiencing either of these serves as a warning that there is an underlying problem that needs to be corrected as soon as possible, so as to preempt further discomfort. (Nipples may also crack or bleed due to eczema, which you may want your health care practitioner to rule out.)

"The root problem with cracked and bleeding nipples is usually the baby's latch," says postpartum doula and co-founder of Baby Caravan Emily Crocker. "This is such a common problem, but if you're having pain, you should try contacting a lactation consultant or your doula to see if they can look at the latch and offer help. Some simple adjustments in latch can make a big difference."

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Your lactation consultant or doula can also check to see that a mother is using the right size pump.

In the meantime, the following techniques can promote healing:

Change your positioning and double-check the baby's latch: While working with a lactation consultant will help you be absolutely sure that your latch is correct, you can try this technique yourself first. Crocker says, "If your baby latches on, and you can't see their lips, use your fingers to pout their lips out or use your pinky to unlatch the baby, and have them try again." And for a good latch from day one, she recommends this trick: "Hold your breast like a sandwich, and point your nipple at their top lip. This will make the baby open their mouth wide, so you can stick as much of your nipple into their mouth as possible. You want to make sure they are latching onto your entire areola and not just your nipple. That is what can cause a lot of pain."

Keep the nipples clean: To keep infection at bay, rinse the breast after each feeding with water. Then, once a day, you can use a plain soap (not perfumed or antibacterial) to gently clean any wounds.

Soothe cracked nipples with a moisturizing agent: Olive oil or medical-grade ointments containing lanolin (which can be found over the counter) can help alleviate pain and promote wound-healing. Research shows using a moisturizing treatment on the nipples can prevent a scab from forming, which allows new epithelium cells to move across the surface of the wound more quickly and reduce the time it takes it to close. To do: Rub a small amount of olive oil or ointment on your nipples after every feeding. (You don't need to wash it off before nursing again.) Crocker says mothers may also benefit from using just salt and warm water. To do, just fill two shot glasses with salt water and dip your nipples into it after each feeding.

Use antibacterial ointment: If you have an open wound, check with your health care practitioner or lactation consultant about applying neomycin (such as Neosporin or triple antibiotic ointment). Like the lanolin, this doesn't need to be washed off prior to a feeding.

Rule out teething as a cause: Babies may chew or bite on the nipples when they start to teeth. To preempt this from causing cracked nipples, give the baby something cold and wet (like a clean, wet washcloth that was left in the refrigerator) to chew on a few minutes before a feeding.

Continue breastfeeding if possible: As long as the pain isn't unbearable, you can continue to nurse as usual. A cracked or bleeding nipple will not bother or harm your baby. They may swallow some blood, and you could see it come out in their diaper, but this is not necessarily a cause for concern. However, if the cracked or bleeding nipples are stemming from a poor latch, your little one might not be getting enough milk. Thus, it's even more imperative to work with a lactation consultant to correct the baby's latch. If nursing is too painful, you can pump for a day or two to allow the nipples to heal.

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Apply a cold compress: To quash pain, you can use a cold compress on the nipples for 5 to 10 minutes before breastfeeding. This can dull the sensation of the initial latch, which tends to hurt the most.

If these strategies don't offer relief, see your health care practitioner to avoid further complications, such as clogged ducts, thrush, or mastitis, which may occur as a result of cracked skin.

Have you ever had cracked or bleeding nipples? How did you address it?


Image via Corbis

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