How to Handle Painful Nipples from Breastfeeding and Pumping

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Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural way to feed your baby. It can sometimes be uncomfortable but should not hurt or be uncomfortable on an ongoing basis. Think of the journey as a learning experience for both you and your baby. That means that there will be hiccups along your path, regardless of whether it’s your first, second, or fifth journey with breastfeeding your baby! (Every baby is different, and our bodies change overtime.) But remember, they’re just hiccups! If you feel like something isn’t going right, reach out and get support with your breastfeeding or pumping needs.

Causes of Pain During Breastfeeding

There are many reasons why breastfeeding moms can experience nipple pain. Here are some of the most common causes:

Poor Latching

This is the most common cause of nipple pain. A poor latch can lead to cracked nipples and even a decrease in milk supply because your little one may not be getting enough milk to feed properly. The baby should be latched on to the nipple and the surrounding area of the areola (the darker pigmented skin around your nipple).

Improper Position on the Breast

A baby’s lower jaw should be positioned under the nipple, so if your little one is latching onto only the tip or side of your nipple, likely, they’re not in a good position for feeding. Swapping breasts mid-feed can help them re-latch properly and get a better seal on your breast.

Cracked Nipples

Cracked nipples are a common problem in the early days of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding doesn’t cause cracked nipples, but a poor latch can lead to cracked or sore nipples. This is usually an easy fix! If you talk with your lactation consultant or IBCLC, they can help you to get your nipples healed and on the path to happily nursing and pumping again. (We’re here for you virtually!


You may also experience nipple pain if your baby has thrush; a yeast infection in their mouth that can make breastfeeding painful for you. If you notice white patches on your baby’s tongue or inside his cheek (which look like cottage cheese), take them to their pediatrician to treat the condition with antifungal medication.

Incorrect Flange size

If you’re pumping, it could be that your flange size is not optimal for your particular breasts. If your nipple is not fitting well in the pump flange, you will experience pain when you try to pump. This can take a toll on your nipples and can cause very painful pumping sessions. We notice a lot of foot tapping when this is taking place. If you’re tapping your feet to get through the pain, take that as a sign that you need to be sized for a new set of flanges or have your pumping setup checked by a pumping pro! Click here for a virtual consult with our expert fitters.

How to Soothe Cracked Nipples

Nipple care is an important part of your breastfeeding routine. Here are some tips on how to heal cracked nipples:

  • Use a clean towel to dry your nipples after washing them — don’t rub them dry.
  • Put some breast milk on your nipples and let it air dry. Breast milk contains antibodies and is known to help treat cracked skin.
  • Avoid soap that contains fragrances or harsh chemicals.
  • Try coconut oil if lanolin doesn’t work for you (it’s not for everyone).
  • If you’re pumping, use a lubricant before putting your breasts into the flange.

How to Prevent Cracked Nipples? 

Cracked nipples are a common issue for new parents. It is important to address this problem quickly to ensure it does not worsen. The good news is that it can be prevented and treated easily by adhering to the following tips:

Proper Latching

Having an appropriate latch is key to preventing cracks in the first place. The “rule of thumb” is that the baby’s chin should come in contact with the breast first, then lips, and the nose should be touching the breast but not smooshed into the breast. If your baby is not latched properly, it can cause nipple damage and painful cracks.

Correct Positioning

Sometimes a change in positioning can help prevent cracks and make it easier for your baby to latch on. Common positions include the cross-cradle position, the football hold, and lying on the side.

What Can Happen if You Don’t Address Cracked Nipples

When you have cracked nipples, it is important to address them right away. If the cracks are acute, raw, and bleeding, or oozy, you need a nipple cream to moisturize the cracked area and protect it from bacteria. We have a “911 Nipple Rescue” kit that we swear by and sell! (Reach out to grab yours today to keep on hand.)

However, if your cracked nipples are chronic (they don’t go away), you may need a deeper treatment at the root of the problem. It is common for parents who have chronic cracked nipples to also suffer from breast engorgement, mastitis, or plugged ducts because of their inability to drain their breasts efficiently. Your IBCLC can help you to address this and change your setup to avoid future problems.

If you’re experiencing any sort of discomfort or problems with your breastfeeding or breastpumping journey, reach out to schedule a virtual consultation today!