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Sore nipples

Many mums get sore or cracked nipples. So here are some self-help tips, including how to identify any breastfeeding issues and get support with them.

Breastfeeding in the early days can be physically and emotionally challenging. If you’re struggling with sore or cracked nipples, it is important to get support early because it could affect your milk supply and leave your baby dissatisfied after feeds (NHS, 2019a).

Here are some self-help tips that might reduce soreness or help painful nipples.

1. Get breastfeeding support early to check the basics

Many women get sore nipples in the early days of breastfeeding and mums often stop breastfeeding because of it (NICE, 2017).

Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. Problems with breastfeeding often have a number of causes, which might overlap (NICE, 2017). That's why NICE recommend a feeding assessment by an appropriately trained person who can help you identify any issues and what you want to do about them (NICE, 2017).

Ask a midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist to observe a feed. They can check your baby is positioned and attached well at your breast (NHS, 2019a).

You could contact a local NCT breastfeeding counsellor, who can give support over the phone or might be available to visit you at home. There might also be a local NCT breastfeeding support group you can drop in to or you can call our feeding support line on 0300 330 0700.

2. Identify any issues

Get help early from a breastfeeding drop-in or breastfeeding counsellor. If your baby is properly positioned and attached during feeds and your nipples are still sore, then further support or investigation may be needed for underlying problems (NICE, 2017).

3. Get treatment if you need it

If there is pain in your breasts, especially after weeks without any pain, you might have an infection like thrush or an inflammation like mastitis (NICE, 2017). Underlying causes for sore nipples or ongoing breastfeeding pain can be treated.

4. Help with discomfort due to milk let down 

A painful milk let-down can occasionally be experienced while your body adjusts to feeding your baby. Using relaxation techniques, similar to those used in labour, can be helpful. Good positioning techniques and supporting your body (back, arms and elbows) without straining or leaning over your baby while feeding them can also help (La Leche League, 2021).

Other tips include breastfeeding with the least sore side first until your milk lets down, and then switching your baby to the affected breast. You could also try massaging your breast, using warm compresses and gently hand expressing to stimulate the let-down (Breastfeeding Basics, 2015).

5. Try these skin care tips for sore nipples

You can take some practical steps to help your nipples recover and stay pain free. Avoiding soap on your breasts helps to prevent the skin becoming dry. Changing your breast pads at each feed should also help (NHS, 2019a).

You could also try expressing a little breastmilk at the end of a feed and gently massaging it on your nipple. Let your nipples dry fully before covering them up. Some women find nipple creams helpful, although there is no evidence that these creams make any difference (NHS, 2019a).

6. For mastitis, give hot and cold compresses a go

For treating mastitis, some women find it helpful to have a warm shower or place a warm flannel on the breast before feeding their baby (NICE, 2017). Breast massage in a warm shower before feeding the baby could also help.

During your baby’s feed, deep breathing might help you cope with any pain. Some mums find placing a cold flannel or compress on their breast after feeding helps to ease the pain too (NHS, 2019b).

7. Find comfortable clothing

Wearing the right bra can make a huge difference to how comfortable your breasts and nipples feel. Make sure you have a well-fitted cotton bra and try to avoid under-wired bras. This is because there might be a potential risk of the wire pressing into your breast and causing blocked ducts (NHS, 2019a).

8. Prioritise yourself

Breastfeeding can be physically and emotionally challenging, especially if you have sore nipples or get an infection. Having an infection like thrush or an inflammation like mastitis can make you feel even more tired and unwell (NHS, 2018, 2019b).

Your health is important, so be gentle with yourself. Some women find a walk on their own, a call with a friend, or an uninterrupted bath can help.

9. See what other support is available

If you need support, don’t forget to ask people for it – from your partner to family and friends, they will often be happy to help you out. And if you’re concerned about how you’ve been feeling since you’ve had your baby there is support available from fantastic organisations such as Pandas Foundation and Home Start, which are charities which helps families with young children deal with the challenges they face.

If you have questions, concerns or need support with feeding, you can speak to an NCT breastfeeding counsellor by calling our support line on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. And there’s the National Breastfeeding Line on 0300 100 021.

This page was last reviewed in March 2021.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Breastfeeding Basics. (2015) Sore nipples. Available at: https://www.breastfeedingbasics.com/articles/sore-nipples [Accessed 21st March 2021].

La Leche League. (2021) Pain: general.  Available at: https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/pain-general/ [accessed 21st March 2021].

NHS. (2018) Breastfeeding and thrush. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breastfeeding-and-thrush/ [Accessed 21st March 2021].

NHS. (2019a) Sore or cracked nipples when breastfeeding. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/sore-cracked-nipples-breastfeeding/ [Accessed 21st March 2021].

NHS. (2019b) Mastitis. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/mastitis/ [Accessed 21st March 2021].

NICE. (2017) Breastfeeding problems – management. Available at: https://cks.nice.org.uk/breastfeeding-problems#!scenario [Accessed 21st March 2021].

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