Sore, cracked and damaged nipples are not normal, but unfortunately, they can be quite common for many breastfeeding parents.
The best way to treat sore nipples is to prevent them. Make sure baby has a good latch, with their chin in deep to the breast. This allows baby to take in the areola tissue, not just the nipple tissue. For tips on how to achieve a good latch, check here How to Latch Your Baby
If sore and damaged nipples do develop, an effective way to treat them is with moist wound healing. With clean hands, apply nipple balm of choice to the nipples after every feeding (or pumping if you are expressing your breast milk.) Nipple balms include lanolin, coconut or olive oil, calendula ointment, or over-the-counter nipple butters. As with anything topical, observe for signs of sensitivity or allergic reactions when using. If using OTC nipple balms, choose ones that are organic, as they tend to have minimal ingredients. After a coating of nipple balm, apply a non-stick cover such as parchment paper (who knew it was good for more than just baking?) Wax paper, hydrogel pads and Telfa pads also work well.
Sore nipple treatments to steer clear of include some “remedies” that have been around for years. Things such as using a blow dryer (save that for your hair), allowing the nipples to air dry, applying wet tea bags and soaking the nipples in a saline solution should be avoided. Treat the nipple wound as you would treat a wound on another part of your body. This generally means not exposing the wound to the air, but applying an ointment and a covering. Soaking wounds in water can further break down nipple tissue. And as for the commonly recommended expressed breast milk rubbed into sore nipples? While we know breast milk contains antibacterial properties, it also becomes sticky when dried, which can cause the nipple to stick to a breast pad or bra, further damaging the nipple tissue.
In general, prescription nipple ointments that contain several medicated ingredients should be approached with caution. It wouldn’t be typical for a physician to treat a wound on the arm or leg with a medication that contained a steroid, an antibacterial and an anti fungal. Why should the approach to healing nipple damage be any different?
If sore nipples persist despite the above treatments, don’t hesitate to contact the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh at 412-246-4726 to discuss with one our board certified lactation consultants.