Your guide to breastfeeding

Some tips if you're experiencing pain or discomfort while breastfeeding. 

Breastfeeding might look effortless for some, but for many other women it takes patience and persistence to get it right. While some nipple sensitivity is expected after childbirth, nipple pain is not normal. Here’s what might help if things aren’t quite going to plan.

Nipple pain

Successful breastfeeding involves getting your baby to attach properly to the breast during suckling. This can minimise nipple pain and help drain the breast well. If your baby isn’t attaching well, you could end up with sore, grazed or cracked nipples. Plus inadequate milk drainage can lead to a blocked milk duct and mastitis (inflammation of the breast), which can cause shivers and aches. Correct attachment is important if you get mastitis as it can help empty or drain the breast more easily.

Your midwife, a lactation consultant or an Australian Breastfeeding Association breastfeeding counsellor can show you how to attach the baby properly and teach you baby-led attachment, where the baby learns to seek out the breast. They can also help you manage a blocked duct or mastitis. See your doctor if you have a fever, feel unwell or if a blocked duct is not getting better, as these can be signs of an infection that needs treatment.

Successful breastfeeding involves getting your baby to attach properly to the breast during suckling.

Nipple thrush

Nipple thrush is a fungal infection that doesn’t ease with correct baby attachment. It can cause the nipples to sting or feel itchy, plus radiate pain through the breast. The nipples may be cracked, turn a brighter pink than normal and look shiny or have white specks. Your baby may have thrush in their mouth or bottom. It’s usually caused by a history of vaginal thrush, recent use of antibiotics or nipple damage.

Antifungal creams, tablet gels and drops are used to treat fungal infections in the breast, the baby and other members of the family. You should also keep the breast area dry.

Baby bottles filled with milk

Dermatitis

Red, itchy or swollen skin around the nipple and areola may indicate dermatitis. It’s generally caused by sensitivity to nipple ointments and creams, soaps, fabrics or washing detergent. Blister-like lesions that crust over may be eczema.

Don’t use shampoos or soaps on the nipples when showering and avoid nipple creams. Wash your bras, breast pads and undergarments with mild soap, then rinse them well and dry them in the sun.

Three best-breast tips

  1. Leave ’em milky. Resist the temptation to wipe your breasts free of milk and colostrum – they both contain anti-infective agents to protect your nipples. 
  2. Get comfy. A relaxed mother leads to a relaxed baby, so make comfort your first priority. Some women prefer going bra-less when breastfeeding, while others feel more comfortable in a well-fitted maternity bra. For sore nipples, try wearing a breast shell, which is a hard plastic dome with holes that allow the nipples to breathe and protects them from rubbing against clothing or other objects. 
  3. Ask for help. Breastfeeding is a learnt skill, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a range of breastfeeding support services. Visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association for details.

If you are having problems breastfeeding and need some advice speak to your midwife, a lactation consultant or an Australian Breastfeeding Association breastfeeding counsellor.

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