Nipple Pain When Breastfeeding And How To Manage It

Nipple Pain When Breastfeeding And How To Manage It

After going through Painful Breastfeeding as a New Mom with my first baby, I am happy to report that I have successfully managed nipple pain when breastfeeding with my second.

I still experienced sore and painful nipples this second time around, but it never got anywhere near as bad as it did with my first. This is because I knew what to do from the get go. And this made breastfeeding in those early newborn days A LOT less stressful.

So I want to share my top 3 tips for managing nipple pain when breastfeeding in hopes that it can help some other mamas!

#1. Protect Sore Nipples in-between Feeds 

With my first baby, I did not know how to properly protect my nipples in between nursing sessions, and this aggravated my already very sore and cracked nipples. Everyone told me to just apply nipple cream and that it would work wonders. Unfortunately, I did not find that nipple ointments did much for me. 

Whenever I would leak colostrum or milk, it created a sticky residue and my nipples would stick to my bra. So when I would hastily pull my bra down to breastfeed, it would painfully take cracking and delicate nipple skin with it. Ouch. 

So with my second baby, I did some planning and research beforehand regarding products to help protect and heal delicate nipple skin in between breastfeeding sessions.

My Favorite Nursing Supplies to Protect Sore Nipples

  • Silver Nursing Cups
  • Cooling Hydrogel Pads
  • Nipple Shells

Silver Nursing Cups

I used silver nursing cups daily for the first 2 weeks of breastfeeding my newborn. The cups provided much needed protection in-between feeds, allowing my nipples to heal and find some relief.

Now, 3 weeks into my breastfeeding journey, I only need these cups when my nipples are starting to feel particularly sore, which happily isn’t that often!

silver nursing cups to manage nipple pain when breastfeeding

While I don’t know much about the particulars of the science behind these cups (supposedly the silver has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties), I do know that they provide a nice barrier between sore nipples and any potential sources of friction. 

So in my experience, these silver nursing cups have been essential. I wish I had them when going through painful breastfeeding with my first baby, because they made such a difference this second time around. And aside from their function, they are small, simple to pop on and off and easy to clean.

I am diligent about keeping them clean with soap and warm water between uses, and I make sure my nipples are wiped clean and are dry before applying the cups. 

Cooling Gel Pads

After the silver nursing cups, I found cooling gel pads to be most helpful in the early stages of breastfeeding. Medela makes gel pads that can be reused for a couple of days, and Ameda makes ones that can be reused for up to 6 days. You can clean them and place them in the refrigerator between uses to help cool and soothe inflamed nipples, as well as provide some protection against friction.

I only needed these for the first week or 2 of breastfeeding. I alternated using them with the silver nursing cups and this made my nipple pain when breastfeeding very manageable!

Breast Shells

Breast shells are not my favorite, but they certainly have a time and place. I used them a handful of times in my first couple of weeks of breastfeeding. Like the silver nursing cups and gel pads, they provide some nice protection from any friction against sore cracking nipples, and have the added benefit of having air holes in the cups to allow the skin to breathe. They also come with some foam inserts that soak up any leaking breastmilk.

My one complaint about these, is that even when I wore a relatively loose but fitted crop top to hold them in place, they still left pressure indents around my nipples. I think this was due to all the swelling and inflammation around my nipples. So I would only use the shells for short periods of time when I felt like the skin on my nipples needed to air out. 

Before using the shells, I rubbed breast milk over my nipples and let it dry with the shells on. Alberta explains that breastmilk has antibodies in it that can aid with healing sore nipples.

#2: Take a Break from Nursing: Pump as Needed to Minimize Nipple Pain When Breastfeeding

Whenever my nipples start to get really sore, swollen and or have any sort of lesions, I switch to pumping until things calm down. At two and a half weeks postpartum I am continuing to use this strategy. This prevents my nipples from getting too beat up before they are ready to handle exclusive breastfeeding.

The idea to intermittently pump to manage nipple pain was first introduced to me by a lactation nurse when I was struggling with breastfeeding with my first baby. She said that my nipples needed time to heal before I could continue breastfeeding.

And it only took a week or less of exclusively pumping before I started alternating pumping and directly breastfeeding. And I then ended up being able to exclusively breastfeed. For me, the benefit of this was not having to deal with managing and cleaning pump parts and bottles.

So I like to share this little piece of wisdom regarding intermittent pumping to manage nipple pain from that lactation nurse, because I do not believe it is a very common one among most lactation consultants. In my experience, many lactation nurses will continue to push breastfeeding unless you have blood pouring from your nipples. But, you know what pain is and if your nipples are not in a place to have a hungry little human chomping on them.

I have found it pretty amazing how in the early days of breastfeeding, when nipples are still acclimating to their rigorous new job, just a day of pumping or just a few sessions can help manage nipple pain and soreness.

For example, with my second baby, I exclusively breastfed the first 2-3 days after delivery, and then when she started to cluster feed, I switched to intermittently pumping as well. Those cluster feeds can happen every hour or less, and that can really start to irritate nipples.

When pumping, I always make sure to use the right sized flanges for my nipple size, and I use a nipple balm like Honest’s Calm Your Nip Balm to prevent uncomfortable friction while pumping.

different sized flanges to manage nipple pain when breastfeeding

#3.   Always Help Baby Get a Good Latch to Manage Nipple Pain When Breastfeeding

They say that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt if baby has a good latch. I disagree. Breastfeeding can still hurt even if baby has a great latch. This doesn’t mean though that you shouldn’t continue to focus on getting a good latch every feed. Because your nipples will hurt a lot more without one.

Especially when newborns and babies are small, the Brest Friend Nursing Pillow is amazing to ensure a good position for proper latch. Getting one of these pillows was an absolute game changer for me.

My Brest Friend nursing pillow to help manage nipple pain when breastfeeding
My Brest Friend nursing pillow packed up in its case with my hospital bag.

This pillow makes it easy to lay baby on top of it, support his or her upper back with one arm and hand, and then hug baby in close to latch as you use your other hand to sandwich your nipple to help baby latch.

The benefit of this pillow compared to other nursing pillows, is that it doesn’t leave a gap for baby to fall in between the pillow and your torso. Especially during the newborn phase, I found this made breastfeeding much easier ergonomically. When my first baby got bigger, I started using the Boppy nursing pillow, but for newborns I really prefer the My Brest Friend pillow. 

Sharing Our Breastfeeding Stories

Struggling with nipple pain when breastfeeding is a fairly common experience among mothers, but something that isn’t often talked about. The more we share our breastfeeding stories though, and the more we share our tips and tricks with each other, the better prepared we are mentally and physically to navigate what can be a challenging journey!

Please share your story and what is or is not working for you when it comes to nipple pain during breastfeeding in the comments below. Thank you!


  • Gussi Ochi

    Just another mom learning and growing in motherhood everyday! | BA in psychology, MA in art therapy & counseling, former licensed massage therapist

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