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, this could affect your milk supply and leave your baby dissatisfied after feeds (NHS, 2016a).

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

1. Get breastfeeding support early to check the basics

It’s common for to get sore nipples in the early days of breastfeeding and mums often stop breastfeeding because of it. Yet it’s best to continue breastfeeding if possible (NICE, 2017).

Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. So try to make sure you get your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist to observe you feeding your baby. They can check your baby is positioned and attached well at your breast (NHS, 2016, 2017).

You could contact your local NCT branch to see what breastfeeding support services you have locally. A local NCT breastfeeding counsellor might be available to visit you at home and offer you support. You might also have a local NCT breastfeeding support group you can drop in to so you can ask an NCT breastfeeding counsellor for advice. Calling our feeding support line on 0300 330 0700. It can help to chat to other breastfeeding mums too.

2. Identify any issues

Going to your local breastfeeding support group for advice might help you identify whether you have any underlying issues. If you think you have an underlying medical issue though, it’s important to get medical advice swiftly, to prevent it from getting worse. So if you’re still in pain despite a breastfeeding counsellor saying your baby’s position and attachment are okay, talk to your GP about your symptoms (NHS, 2016a).

3. Get treatment if you need it

If you have pain in your breasts, especially after weeks without any pain, you might have an infection like thrush or mastitis (NICE, 2017). Underlying causes for sore nipples or ongoing breastfeeding pain can be treated. Treatment can include a baby with a tongue-tie having their frenulum divided, cream for a thrush infection or antibiotics for mastitis (NICE, 2017).

4. Help your milk to let down more easily  

Encouraging your milk to let down means your baby doesn’t have to suck so hard while waiting for your milk to let down (Breastfeeding Basics, 2015).

Tips to try include breastfeeding with the least sore side first until your milk lets down and then switching your baby to the affected breast. Relaxation breathing might help your milk let down. Other things you could try include 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. Try to avoid using soap on your breasts as it dries out skin quickly. Changing your breast pads at each feed should also help (NHS, 2016a).

You could also try expressing a little milk at the end of a feed and gently massaging it on your nipple. Let your nipples dry fully before covering them up. Some women use a barrier cream like Vaseline to help with sore nipples, although there is no evidence that this makes any difference (NHS, 2016a).

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

If you have mastitis, you might find it helpful to have a warm shower or place a warm flannel on your breast before feeding your baby (NICE, 2017). Massaging your breast in a warm shower before feeding your 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, 2016b).

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, 2016a).

8. Go easy on yourself

Breastfeeding can be physically and emotionally challenging, especially if you have sore nipples or get an infection. Having an infection like thrush or mastitis can make you feel even more tired and unwell (NHS, 2016b, 2018). So be gentle with yourself. And if you’re concerned about how you’ve been feeling since you’ve had your baby there is support available – see our help and support page for contact details.

9. Try to have a break

Sometimes, getting the chance to rest can be super helpful for you. Try to have some ‘you time’ if you can. It’s amazing how even a walk on your own or an uninterrupted bath can help you feel better.

10. 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.

If you have questions, concerns or need support, 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. You could contact organisations like Home Start too, which is a charity which helps families with young children deal with the challenges they face. And there’s the National Breastfeeding Line on 0300 100 021.

This page was last reviewed in July 2018.

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 13th July 2018].

NHS (2018) Breastfeeding and thrush. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breastfeeding-and-thrush/ [Accessed 13th July 2018].

NHS. (2016a) Sore or cracked nipples when breastfeeding. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/sore-cracked-nipples-breastfeeding/ [Accessed 13th July 2018].

NHS. (2016b) Mastitis. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/mastitis/ [Accessed 13th July 2018].

NICE. (2017) Breastfeeding problems – management. Available at: https://cks.nice.org.uk/breastfeeding-problems#!scenario [Accessed 13th July 2018].

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