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Why Are Your Nipples Sore? 10 Nipple Pain Causes and Their Treatment

There are many reasons for sore nipples and the best way to treat this condition often depends upon the specific cause. Join Flo as we explore a number of common causes and their treatment.

What causes sore nipples?


Breastfeeding is one of the most common causes of sore nipples. Particularly in the early stages, if you and your little one are having trouble docking mouth to nipple this provides a lot of opportunities for abrasions to occur to the sensitive skin around this area. For this reason, be prepared for some discomfort in the first few weeks until you settle into your stride.

To minimize discomfort, try to make sure the baby latches on to your breast properly and use your finger to disengage suction after feeding is complete. It’s also helpful to make sure that each feed completely empties the milk ducts in each breast — engorged breasts are more likely to feel heavy and uncomfortable. 

Allergy or atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a common form of skin irritation that occurs alongside other allergic conditions like asthma and hayfever. It can affect many areas of the body and causes red, dry, itchy patches of skin. This type of dermatitis is usually treated with moisturizers and emollients, but a healthcare professional can also offer you steroid creams to reduce itching and discomfort.


Along with many other changes to your body, nipple irritation is a well-known feature of pregnancy. It’s caused by both hormonal fluctuations and the stretching of the skin of your breasts over the course of pregnancy. Many expecting women gain relief from discomfort by applying cocoa butter, coconut oil, or any one of a number of other moisturizing treatments.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal activity throughout life can cause changes to the tissues of your breast and nipple. This means that it’s common for women to report pain, discomfort, or itching during menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and other phases of life. The range of treatment options that are available to you will depend upon the specific cause of the change in hormonal activity. If you’re troubled by any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek expert advice from a trusted health professional.

Unusual contact during sex

Every couple has their own rhythms and routines in bed and sometimes this can include vigorous breast-play. If you’ve noticed that your nipples are becoming irritated during foreplay or sex, you might need to discuss this with your partner. Choose a quiet moment away from the bedroom to open up a conversation about your and your partner’s preferences and gently mention that you need a little more tenderness around your breasts.

Paget's disease 

Paget’s disease is a cancer of the milk ducts that later spreads to the nipple and nearby area. It may initially appear like eczema, but the nipples often discharge blood or yellow fluid. It often affects just one nipple. The condition is treated with surgery and radiation.


Any fabric that makes contact with your nipples can cause irritation, particularly if it’s close-fitting. Be careful about exercise ​clothing — it’s usually form-fitting and the heat and sweat that are generated while working out can increase the potential for irritation. Try to make sure that your bra fits well and apply petroleum jelly to the nipple area before exercising to reduce friction.

Remember that common causes of nipple irritation include the elastic fabrics and dyes that are used in your underwear and lingerie. If you’ve just started wearing new bras, go back to your old sets and see if this helps with your sore nipples.


A number of infections can cause discomfort or pain in the breast and nipple. Be alert to signs of any of the following conditions and seek professional advice if you have any concerns:

  • Thrush. Thrush is a common infection caused by a yeast (the candida fungus). This yeast grows readily in warm, moist environments and in milk. Thrush can be active in your baby’s mouth while she’s breastfeeding and this provides an access point for the infection (you may find white spots on the inside of the baby’s cheeks). Over-the-counter medications are available to treat the condition, but be aware that some are not suitable for use on the breast. Hence you should ask your doctor’s advice before treatment.
  • Mastitis. Mastitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the breast. Among other causes, it can result from long-term blockage of the milk ducts. To resolve the pain: apply moist, warm heat to the breast and massage the local area and continue to nurse on that side. Consult a healthcare provider If this doesn’t resolve the condition or if you develop fever or chills — you probably need a course of antibiotics.

Hygiene products like washing powder

A wide range of consumer products like washing powders, soaps, shampoos, and lotions can all cause irritation to the skin. If your nipple sensitivity or irritation is fairly recent and you’ve been able to exclude other causes, don’t forget to consider the household products that make contact with your skin almost every day.

The chemicals in many skincare products can cause contact dermatitis. This appears as red, itchy patches on any part of your body that’s been exposed. If you’re looking for a culprit, you should be suspicious of any product that you started using relatively recently and preceded your skin reaction by a short time.

Once you’ve determined that contact dermatitis is the cause of your nipple irritation, the solution is pretty straightforward: it’s easy enough to find alternative hypoallergenic, fragrance-free products that should be gentler on your skin.

Eczema around nipples

If you’re prone to any of these skin conditions, you may notice some signs on your nipple or the flat area that surrounds it (the areola). If the irritation is minor, treatment can be as simple as applying a high-quality moisturizer to the area. Look out for products that include ceramides — these waxy substances can form a seal around the irritation and encourage healing.

If moisturizers don’t provide any relief, you can also try topical steroids like hydrocortisone which are more likely to reduce swelling and irritation. Over-the-counter treatments are available from your drugstore, but for stronger formulations, you’ll need a prescription from your doctor.

How to treat sore nipples

The treatment of sore nipples depends upon the cause. Take note of the above conditions and treat them appropriately, if necessary with the guidance of a healthcare provider. In addition, pay close attention to the effect of your local environmental conditions.

Dry or cold weather, in particular, can play havoc with your skin, including your breasts and nipples. If your nipples look chafed or flaky, then you might need to extend them a little tender loving care.

Reduce baths and showers to a maximum of 10 minutes and try to avoid steaming hot water — it’s more likely to strip the skin of oils and encourage dryness. Once you’re out of the water,  gently pat your skin with a towel until it’s almost dry and apply a thick moisturizer immediately.


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