Breastfeeding Issues: Overcoming Nipple Soreness

If you're trying to breastfeed your baby but have problems with nipple soreness or cracking, try these simple techniques to promote healing.

It is common knowledge that breastfeeding offers babies the best start, providing lifelong benefits such as better vision, a decreased risk of obesity, and possibly even a higher IQ, just to name a few. However, many women stop nursing their babies because of nipple soreness, cracking and bleeding. Luckily, there are ways to treat these conditions and successfully continue breastfeeding.

Some simple techniques can greatly decrease soreness in just a few feedings. If you are experiencing sore, cracked, or bleeding nipples, try the following before you decide that breastfeeding is not for you:

* Vary the nursing positions you use. If you normally use the cross-cradle hold, for example, use the football hold. This will take pressure off the affected area and allow it to begin healing.

* Allow nipples to air-dry for 10-15 minutes after feedings.

* After a feeding and before allowing the nipples to air dry, express a little milk and rub it into the nipples - breastmilk has antibacterial properties and can help to treat or prevent infections.

* Apply pure lanolin, such as Lansinoh, to nipples once they have dried. Lanolin moisturizes the nipples and helps cracks to heal.

* Wear cotton bras and washable cotton nursing pads. Avoid disposable nursing pads, which trap moisture next to your nipples and do not allow air to circulate.

* Make sure the baby latches on properly: be sure to wait for the baby to open his or her mouth wide before inserting the nipple, and aim the nipple towards the roof of the baby's mouth. This will ensure that most of the bottom part of the areola is in the baby's mouth, and will take pressure off of the nipple itself. Then pull the baby toward you as closely as possible with your fingers supporting the nape of the baby's neck (not the head). If the baby is latched on properly and the nipple still hurts, use your finger to gently pull the baby's lower lip out a little.

* Manually express a little milk before latching the baby on - this will stimulate the letdown reflex and decrease the time that the baby has to suckle vigorously (and thus painfully) before the milk comes in.

* Offer frequent, short feedings so that the baby will not need to suckle as vigorously.

* At the end of a feeding, insert a finger into the baby's mouth to break the suction before pulling the baby off the breast.

If you have tried these techniques and still experience severe nipple pain, you may have a fungal (yeast) infection due to Candida albicans. This is likely the case if the pain remains the same or increases throughout the feeding, or if the pain continues even after the feeding is over. If this is the problem, see your doctor for treatment.

Also, many hospitals employ lactation consultants who visit new mothers after the birth of their babies to provide advice and education about how to breastfeed. Although nursing is a natural function, learning to breastfeed properly takes practice, and having a lactation consultant observe a feeding and offer advice can be invaluable. If your hospital has a lactation consultant on staff, keep her number in case you have questions later on.

Finally, if you are determined to breastfeed but continue to have problems even after you try the above techniques and rule out a fungal infection, consider buying a good quality electric breastpump. While they are expensive, so is infant formula - so a good pump will pay for itself in a matter of 2-3 months.

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