Breastfeeding can be really hard on a woman’s nipples, especially in the beginning, and there are a few things you need to know about that can occur. Although these changes may be stressful or painful, what is happening to your nipples as a new breastfeeding mom are generally not permanent and almost never something that you need to freak out about.
First time breastfeeding moms have it the worst
The hardest time for your nipples is when you are learning how to breastfeed your first baby. While you can read books and surf the net, there’s nothing like having the infant actually at your breast. You don’t know how it is supposed to feel yet. Is she latched?
It just feels like a vacuum sucking fiercely on delicate skin.
Further, baby is driven by instinct, but the truth is, she doesn’t know how either. She has to learn. She can get frustrated when it doesn’t work for her right away, driven by a hunger she can’t understand. And she’ll try to latch onto anything.
Until you know how it feels when she is latched correctly, and know how it looks, your nipples take the brunt of things.
If the latch is not properly positioned, the infant was suck on your nipple skin. No milk (or very little) will come out. When an infant is correctly position, the initial “suck” is her getting settled. Then all she does is open and close her mouth (and the milk squeezes out, a lot like milking a cow). That continual sucking on the tissue is what causes nipple skin to dry out, crack, and bleed. This can also allow bacteria or yeast to get into those little cracks and cause more suffering.
Using lanolin-based creams and gentle soaps when washing can help heal these cracks and mitigate the risk of infection. You can also use nursing pads, nursing tank tops, nipple covers, and other products to get through this difficult time.
Second, third, and fourth time moms
While first time moms have it the worst, new babies are hard on the nipples of all moms, regardless of how many babies she has had. There is a certain amount of desensitization that apparently needs to occur when baby gets started.
In general though, EVEN IF your baby latches on perfectly (and right away) after birth, you will experience some nipple soreness. This is true for the first baby, or the last baby. Ever bought a new pair of shoes and taken them out for a run right away without breaking them in? Nursing a baby is kind of like that. My mother told me when I was first nursing that her mother (my grandmother) advised her to take a dry dishtowel and rub her nipples hard every day near the end of her pregnancy with me. The idea was to help the skin get “toughened up” before baby arrived. My mom says that it didn’t work, and she didn’t recommend it to me, either.
With my first child, I had trouble getting nursing established. So my nipples were in BAD shape for close to six weeks. My second child came just two months after I weaned my first baby. You would have thought my nipples would have been in good shape after a year’s worth of nursing.
While the breaking in period with second baby was much shorter (just a few weeks), there was still a period of discomfort where I used lanolin or nipple covers to get me through the initial start up period.
With my third baby (a few years later), I am pretty sure there was some discomfort, but I have to say that it was less. But then again, I had three children under the age of five by then. I can’t remember much of anything from that period.
White nipples, whaaaat?
Nipples can sometimes turn white after breastfeeding. This occurs when the blood supply to the nipple is cut off and is generally because of the baby not latching correctly. The white color is accompanied by shooting, stinging, or burning pain. If you see a white nipple when baby pops off, make an appointment to see your obstetrician or see if there is a lactation specialist available to help you.
Blisters, are you serious?
Milk blisters can also occur on nipples, and this happens when there is some skin that grows over a milk duct’s opening. This allows milk to build up behind it and is very painful until the blister is opened. If you struggle with blisters a lot and they don’t seem to be resolving, make an appointment to see your obstetrician. This may be less of a latch issue and more of a frequency issue.
Unfortunately, the treatment for milk blisters (and most other nursing issues) is to just nurse more. Nurse through the pain, get the latch correctly positioned, and get the routine established.
Montgomery glands are the small bumps on areola that serve to secrete sebum. During breastfeeding these glands can often become more pronounced and prominent.
Nipples can also appear droopier or like they are sitting lower on the breasts after breastfeeding. This effect doesn’t usually go away, even when you are finished breastfeeding and your child has gotten older.
When it is all over…
If you are a nursing mom, you are a rockstar. Your child might not know it, but the rest of us who have been through it, we know. And here’s what you can look forward to–once the breastfeeding is done, the nipples basically go back to the way they looked before pregnancy and birth.
This is true even if you suffer from cracked/bleeding nipples. I had these, and there were no scars. The rest of the breast might be looking rough (wrinkly skin, droopy tissue), but unless you have gained a lot of weight (and haven’t been able to lose it yet) the nipples pretty much look the same.
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Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, ages 8, 6, and 3. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Emily is a full-time mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the screen when the kids are occupied. She can be reached through the Contact Us page.