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Cracked Nipples: 4 Proven Ways to Heal

Cracked nipples are an uncomfortable condition often experienced by new mothers when learning how to breastfeed. Let’s look at this condition in detail, its causes, and how to heal cracked nipples.

What causes cracked nipples?

Although having cracked nipples is usually associated with breastfeeding mothers, there are other things that can cause the condition. Read on to find out about possible reasons why it may happen: 

Cracked nipples: breastfeeding

Cracked nipples are a common postpartum problem in new mothers. While they are often a result of breastfeeding, nursing by itself is not a painful process with the correct technique. Below are some common reasons why breastfeeding mothers could suffer from cracked nipples:

  • Improper latching: Improper latching is one of the key causes of cracked nipples. When perfectly latched, the nipple is in contact with the back of the baby’s mouth, called the soft palate. This area is soft and doesn’t irritate the nipple. However, with improper latching, the nipple rubs against the hard palate, causing friction and irritation.
  • Thrush: Newborns often suffer from thrush, an infection of the mouth, soon after birth. This can be passed from the baby to the mother during breastfeeding, causing nipple pain and irritation. 
  • Nipple confusion: If you’re breastfeeding as well as bottle feeding, it may lead to nipple confusion in the baby. The technique to draw milk in both methods is different, with one focused on the tongue (bottle) and the other involving the mouth (breast). The baby may get confused and use the incorrect technique while latching, causing cracked nipples.   
  • Incorrect breast pump use: Cracked nipples can also be caused by not using a breast pump correctly. If the suction level is too high, the pressure may damage your nipple. Use a breast shield that is large enough. It’s a good idea to talk to a professional lactation consultant to find a pump that’s right for your breast size and shape.

Cracked nipples: not breastfeeding

It’s possible to get cracked nipples even if you’re not breastfeeding. Find out more about the possible reasons why it could happen to you:

  • Nipple eczema: This condition causes itchy, scaly, irritated skin around your areola. It can be caused by irritation from certain fabrics, detergent, soap, or lotion. Nipple eczema usually heals once you find and eliminate the source of irritation. 
  • Local irritation or trauma: Cracked nipples can also be caused by vigorous rubbings, such as when wearing a bad-fitting sports bra. An injury or fresh nipple piercing that hasn’t healed yet can also cause irritation.
  • Bacterial or fungal infections: Certain underlying bacterial and fungal infections such as staph or yeast can also cause sore, painful nipples. 
  • Paget’s disease: This is a rare condition that results from invasive breast cancer or noninvasive cancer known as ductal carcinoma in situ. Paget’s disease affects the skin around the nipple and can cause itchy, cracked, and flattened nipples, along with yellowish or bloody discharge. 

How to heal cracked nipples

You can treat most cases of cracked nipples by following some natural remedies. However, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if the pain persists and your nipples are itchy and oozing discharge. This may be a sign of a fungal or bacterial breast infection, and you might benefit from medical help in such cases.

Use your milk to heal

One study found that rubbing your own breast milk on cracked nipples can lead to much faster healing than using a lanolin ointment. Apply a few drops of fresh breast milk over your nipples and allow it to air dry. Don’t try this remedy in case of a thrush infection, though, as the fungus thrives on human milk.

Let your baby self-latch

If your nursing technique causes you pain, it might be because of improper latching. Letting your baby self-attach may be surprisingly helpful. Human babies are born with the reflexes needed to attach naturally. Let your baby adjust their chin, neck, and head in a way that feels comfortable for them. You might find that once properly latched, breastfeeding isn’t painful and won’t cause irritated nipples. 

Try different feeding positions

To prevent further nipple irritation, try different feeding positions to find one that works for you. Nipples come in all sizes and shapes, and the perfect feeding position might be different for you. Seeking the help of a lactation consultant to assist you in the process may also be a good idea.

Expose your nipples to the air

You can speed up the healing process by exposing your nipples to air for as long as possible. Airing out your nipples whenever you’re not breastfeeding will give them time to heal. It also prevents anything from rubbing against them, causing further irritation. 

Remedies to avoid

Friends and family often unknowingly suggest “solutions” that might, in fact, make things worse. Make sure you avoid these methods, as they can cause further damage to cracked nipples. 

  • Wet tea bags: While placing wet tea bags on your nipples might seem like a soothing technique, it can further aggravate cracked nipples. Tea has an astringent effect and can dry out your skin even more. Stick to warm water to soothe the affected area.​
  • Ointments that are not 100% lanolin or not ingestible: Creams that aren’t 100% lanolin can block off the air supply to the nipples. This can delay the healing process. Avoid using nipple creams that are marked non-ingestible, as these can harm your baby if ingested during breastfeeding. 

Having cracked nipples is a common condition in breastfeeding mothers, but it can also happen to just about anyone. Cracked nipples can be dry, red, and sore to the touch. Some simple treatments can help you recover from this common postpartum issue. If your nipples are itchy or oozing discharge, it might be a sign of an infection. Make sure to talk to your doctor for treatment and to rule out anything serious.  

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1615851/
https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/cracked-nipples#home-remedies
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16127520
https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/common-concerns%E2%80%93mum/sore-cracked-nipples
https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/benign/eczema-of-the-nipple

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