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Breastfeeding with Cracked Nipples? This Is How to Heal Them FAST

Breastfeeding with two cracked nipples is a whole new level of agony. What if I told you that you didn’t have to grit your teeth and cry through every nursing session, trying to outlast the pain?

Here’s the main problem with your sore and cracked nipples. If you stop breastfeeding in order to heal, your milk supply will stop. (No stimulation = No milk) On the other hand, if you keep breastfeeding “as normal”, your nipples are going to fall off. Okay, they won’t really fall off.  It just feels like they will.

The Secret to Healing your Cracked Nipples Is…

Get those cracked nipples healed super-fast by following this two-step therapy plan.

  1. Attack Plan #1: Double check your positioning and your latch to prevent any nipple re-traumatization.
  2. Attack Plan #2: Switch to pumping for a day or two and use these quick-healing remedies to jump back into the nursing fray.

Level One Healing:
For Sore and Cracked Nipples

So the goal of our Level One intervention for cracked nipples is to lower the pain and promote healing during the breastfeeding session itself.

There’s a few tools we can use to do this.

Healing Cracked Nipples with Shields

Nipple shields are these little decorated iron shields decorated with your family emblem and placed on the tip of each breast.

Just kidding.

There’s no emblem.  Okay, seriously…they look a little different than that.

Functionally, though, they act like little iron shields. These plastic shields provide a comfort zone-buffer between your sore or cracked nipples and your baby’s hungry mouth. The shields are SUPER thin, which tricks your baby into thinking your breast is made of silicone.  (Which, actually, it could be…)

Not only is it a huge help to moms who are trying to perfect their breastfeeding latch, it’s essential for moms with inverted nipples.  (That’s where the nipple looks dimpled, like it’s going in instead of poking out.)

The shield should be placed over the nipple, with the cut-out side over the part of the breast where his little nose will be. A little sterile water will help the shield stick to your skin and prevent any shifting around while breastfeeding.

One more thing.  Measure the diameter of your areola (that’s the darkened-skin area around the nipple) before you pick up a pair of nipple shields. Nipples come in all shapes and sizes.  

Purchasing the wrong size will do nothing for your cracked nipples, and could actually make them worse.  (In case you’re wondering, worse-than-cracked means bleeding.)

Release Your Inner FemBot: The Nipple Shell

Another great weapon in the war against cracked nipples is the nipple shell.  These clever devices give your sore nipples some space.  Literally.

When placed on the breast, it prevents your raw nipples from rubbing against your bra. This may seem like a minor thing, but is actually HUGE when you’re waiting for hurt tissue to heal.  It’s hard to do that when they’re rubbing back and forth on cotton (or worse, WOOL) all afternoon.

Even better, these shells will collect any milk that leaks. This may not be a big deal for you mega-producers out there, but for me, every drop was liquid gold, considering how hard it was to produce!

My only semi-complaint about shells is that they pretty much turn your buxom bosom into a pointy office hazard.  Unless you’re prepared to get stares/snickers/gasps, wear a heavy cover-up sweater or use them on the weekend. 🙂

Use Magic Healing Potions

Besides those contraptions, creams and salves can make a huge healing difference in a short period of time.

When you’re finished breastfeeding, spread a little breastmilk on your nipple and let them air dry.  (Yes, this will require you walk around topless for a while.  He’ll think he died and went to heaven!)

Lanolin is the typical recommended healing cream for sore or cracked nipples.  Lanolin is made from the secretions from sheep. (Sorry that sounds gross, there’s just no flowery-way of explaining it.)  If you’re allergic to wool, almond oil, or shea butter you may want to avoid it. (Vegans beware.)

Honestly, though, lanolin didn’t do much for my aching cracked nipples.  This nipple butter, however, was a MIRACLE of relief. (Ego bonus: It’s all natural!)

Level Two Healing:
For Bleeding Nipples

So, you’ve completed the Level One Cracked Nipple Healing Course and things haven’t improved much.

You’ve used shields and shells, you’ve practiced your topless cooking techniques, and there’s a whole tub of cream smeared on your upper half.

Yet, your cracked nipples are still sore.  So sore, in fact, they are actually bleeding.

In this level of of our healing journey, we’re going to have to “pause” the actual form of breastfeeding, and yet still maintain the same level of stimulation.  It’s a delicate balance.  You need to keep your breastmilk supply high, so you can’t just stop, but you also need a little space the tender tissue to heal enough to stop bleeding.  Here’s what we’re going to do.

Step 1: Get a Free Breast Pump

Trust me, you’re going to want a good electric pump.  (Hand pumps are generally a pain in the pa-tootie.)

When I first started writing about babies and breastfeeding, your only choice was to either shell out a couple hundred dollars or rent a sub-par model (with duct tape!) from the hospital.

NO MORE! Insurance companies are now required by law to provide you with a high-quality breast pump for Freeeeee!  Free…free…free…

Aeroflow will not only do all the crappy paperwork free of charge, they will set you up with a consultant to make sure the pump you are receiving is the perfect fit for your unique situation. Click here to fill out their short form and get that process started!

Step #2: Pump and Bottle Feed

For two days pump every 2 hours, even if you get only drips, and feed that milk to your newborn in a bottle.  (Choosing a good bottle can help prevent nipple confusion.)Not only will the every-two-hour schedule increase your milk supply, the design of the pump will give your nipples a much needed rest.

Again, areolas come in all different sizes so make sure the plastic that goes around your breast is the right size, otherwise you’ll be back on agony street. It needs to be large enough that you feel the tug around the areola area not just the nipple.

Having experienced cracked nipples with my second-born, I can tell you that if you are using the right pump shield size, it won’t hurt.  Even if your nipples are bleeding.  If it does, you need to go a size larger.

When Nothing
Seems to Be Working…

Have your baby checked for tongue-tie.  There may be a physical reason for all this pain.  Click here to learn more about tongue-tie.

Another clever and helpful reader pointed out in the comments that if you’re nipples are sore and these methods aren’t working, you should also head back to your doctor to be checked for Thrush.

Once your cracked nipples have healed (just a day or two should do it), try try again.  It’s time to leave the cracked dry desert of hopelessness and skip through a fertile garden of bonding.

Having struggled in that desert and danced in that garden, let me assure you:  it’s so worth it.

You can totally do this. You can get yourself healed up and actually meet your breastfeeding goals. It will just take a plan (which hopefully now you have), a few good tools, and a pound of stubbornness (that’s the easy part!).

Time to heal up!

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67 thoughts on “Breastfeeding with Cracked Nipples? This Is How to Heal Them FAST

  1. I’m so glad to hear that, friend! I’m glad you didn’t give up to. There’s something about overcoming a breastfeeding struggle, even if it’s only short-term, that feels so garsh darn good. 🙂

  2. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! For this blog. I was in so much pain last week between nursing and engorgement with my 2nd child. I had thoughts of taking a break to let my nipples heal, but I wasn’t sure how to go about. Especially with the engorgement because they tell you to let baby nurse to relieve it. Coming across this blog made me feel that taking a break was ok. I got online and bought nipple sheilds and nipple butter and sent my husband for some cabbage. I used the cabbage leaves 2 times (20 min each time) and pumped as often as I could to keep up with feedings. After a couple days my nipples were looking better so I started using the shields and perfecting the latch. I finally got the nerve to go without the sheild after a couple days. OMG, the difference everything made. Glad I didn’t give up. Thanks for your advice!

  3. Shayne, I wish I could offer strong advice on this, but I really can’t. I don’t have the training and knowledge background. What you are suggesting makes sense to me, as a possible solution, but I would really reach out to a Lactation Consultant at your local hospital (or via La Leche League online) and get her feedback. She has been trained in all the medical side of thing, and will know things I can’t even hope to guess at. Your best answers will come from her!

  4. Alright I need some suggestions, my little man is 2 weeks old and is my first child that I’ve nursed without a shield (I had extremely inverted nipples). Both breast take turns being utterly painful, currently it’s my right side. There’s a big crack that bleeds but the searing pain only last for the first 2 mins or so. I use lanolin and keep it clean but I’m wondering if maybe it’s time to give that side a break a pump for a couple days? What’s your suggestion? Thanks in advance!

  5. Melanie, I would talk to a lactation consultant, I’m SURE this is something they’ve dealt with before. As a fellow “enhanced areola woman” myself, I can tell you that finding the right size is really important. I would find it very unlikely that they don’t have resources or options to help you. I wish I had that level of expertise, but I just don’t. Call your local hospital and ask if they have a lactation consultant on staff – many of them do!

  6. Any advice on extremely large areolas. I have purchased the largest pump flange they sell & my nappies are still getting ripped apart. My little one is almost 4 months old & we have had to use a nipped shield from the beginning b/c mine are flat. When I pump it completely pulls the skin apart. I’m running out of options & afraid my breastfeeding journey may be coming to an end if I can’t get some relief.

  7. I recommend using “superlan” you can buy it on amazon.com I tried many Lanolin creams, but this one is a cut above the rest, it works so fast and feels so good, it all natural and safe even if a little goes in to your baby’s mouth.

  8. I’m surprised she’s not encouraging pumping, since it seems to me that if it IS a latch problem, a day or two of pumping may help the healing process get a jump start. Several other readers mentioned that their baby was later diagnosed with a tongue tie, which can also cause latching issues. I would ask your doctor and the lactation consultant to look over your little girl for that as well. If things continue to decline, perhaps seek a La Leche League meeting and perhaps seek a second opinion with another lactation consultant – it can’t hurt to have to sets of eyes looking at things.

    I’m so sorry to read this, Jennifer, because I can still clearly remember my own journey to Cracked Nippledom, and that was 9 years ago! Hang in there, friend. Remember, though, that if you decide to wean, that’s not a reflection on your worth as a mother. Healthy babies are the goal here. Your baby will love you regardless. (This isn’t me pushing you to wean! But just to let you know that your mothering score is not dependent on whatever you choose. From what I’ve read, you’re a wonderful mother already!) xoxo

  9. Hello! I’m desperate for help! My daughter is almost 3 weeks old. BF was going great until she was about a week old. It became very painful, dark red spots on my nipples. We saw the lactation specialist, she thought it was a latch problem and tried to help correct it. Still no relief a week later and cracks were forming. Went back a week later. Different lactation nurse told me to only use the football hold to get pressure off the cracks. One side seamed to be getting better but 4 days later and I’ve got a huge crack on one side and the other is getting bigger. Both seam to have a discharge now.

    Lactation nurse wants me to come back tomorrow. And is encouraging me not to pump. We’ve done lanolin, breast milk and air dry, and still no relief.
    I’m at my breaking point! Any suggestions would be great!

  10. Lise, thank you so much for adding this comment! I’m going to amend the post to include your suggestion. Thank you so much for taking the time to make this post more helpful to other moms, I really appreciate it! I’m also glad to hear that you think you’ve gotten down to the heart of what the problem was. I hope this will make a huge difference!

  11. Hi Heather,
    Thanks for the tips, which were really useful. I just want to add that I had terrible cracks that weren’t healing, despite checking my latch with three different BF tutors and two Health Visitors who all said the latch looked fine. It wasn’t until a canny midwife referred us to a tongue-tie clinic where the consultant found a posterior tongue-tie that everything suddenly improved – so if things are really sore and not improving, this could be something to check out. I wish we’d had the referral much sooner, I was struggling for five weeks and wondering what was going so wrong.


  12. thank you so much. very helpful. going through a thrush with my 18 months old. guess i now know what to do

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