Sore Nipples In Breastfeeding: Causes, Management And Prevention

Sore Nipples In Breastfeeding Causes, Management And Prevention

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Sore breasts are a common problem that breastfeeding moms encounter. The soreness can be limited to the nipples, or it can spread across the breast. Soreness of breasts seldom causes many problems. But when accompanied by pain, soreness of the breasts can interfere with breastfeeding.

So what causes sore and painful breasts while breastfeeding and how can you manage the condition at home? Here is a MomJunction post with all the information you need about it.

What Cause Sore Breasts While Breastfeeding?

Here are the leading causes of soreness and pain in the breasts of lactating moms:

  1. Stretching of the nipple: Your nipple will stretch and extend during the first few days of breastfeeding. The sensitive nipple, as well as the areola skin, can become sore due to the baby’s sucking action during the feed. This is a common phenomenon and will subside eventually (1).
  1. Poor latch: It is one of the first things to suspect if you have chronic nipple soreness. A poor latch can cause the nipple to bruise, redden, and even crack, and result in pain (2). Check if the baby has their lips wrapped around the entire areola region and not just the nipple. The soreness and pain will subside when your baby begins to latch-on correctly.
  1. Thrush: Thrush is a yeast infection caused by the Candida fungus and is a common cause of painfully sore nipples. Yeast appears as white patches on the nipple and the areola. If your baby has oral thrush, then you can confirm the diagnosis of nipple thrush.
  1. Mastitis: Mastitis is the accumulation of milk in the breast milk ducts (3). It causes painful engorgement of the breast. If bacteria enter the milk ducts through the cracked nipple, then you can get infective mastitis hat leads to soreness of the breast along with extreme discomfort while breastfeeding.
  1. Eczema: Eczema, medically called dermatitis, is a group of inflammatory skin conditions. Of the many variants of eczema, contact dermatitis is one that you can get because of constant friction (4). The skin on the breast is subjected to constant friction due to breastfeeding, sometimes causing eczema, which leads to pain and soreness of the breast (5).
  1. Ringworm: Ringworm is a fungal infection and occurs when opportunistic fungi settle on the constantly moist skin to multiply and thrive. Any part of the body, including the breasts, can get affected by this infection (6). If it happens on the breasts especially around the nipple, then it is quite likely to feel itchy and sore in the region.

[ Read: How To Relieve Breast Engorgement ]

Most cases of soreness are benign and seldom a cause of concern. But in some cases, a visit to the doctor is necessary.

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When To See A Doctor For Breast Soreness?

See the doctor right away when you experience the following symptoms of breast soreness:

  • Burning and severe itching of the breast that interferes with breastfeeding.
  • Cracked and bleeding nipples.
  • Yellow or clear fluid discharge from the breasts.
  • The pain radiates across your shoulders, neck, or across the chest.
  • The pain is very sharp, and the breasts are painful to the touch. Even a little pressure causes pain.
  • You notice a change in the shape and color of your breasts.
  • You notice a hard lump within the breast.

The doctor suggests the ideal treatment based on the diagnosis.

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How Are Sore And Painful Breasts Treated?

Your doctor decides the treatment after assessment of symptoms and diagnosing the underlying condition. The following are the treatment methods for sore and painful breasts while breastfeeding:

  1. Oral and topical antifungal medications may be prescribed to treat ringworm and thrush. If your baby has the infection as well, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics for infective mastitis. Your doctor will prescribe medications that are compatible with breastfeeding.
  1. Ointments, creams, and lotions help ease conditions like eczema and minimize stretching of the skin due to breastfeeding.

Home care and management are usually enough to manage breast soreness and pain during breastfeeding.

[ Read: How To Stop Leaking Breasts While Breastfeeding ]

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How To Manage And Prevent Nipple Soreness At Home?

Here are a few home remedies to prevent or relieve discomfort due to sore breasts:

  1. Ensure the baby latches on correctly and maintains suction around the entire areola region and not just the nipple. If you are having trouble getting your baby latch, then consult a lactation expert who can teach you the right technique.
  1. Feed from one breast at a time and ensure that you empty one breast before switching to another. It prevents milk stasis, which is an accumulation of milk within the milk ducts. Milk stasis increases the risk of mastitis, which can increase the risk of infection that leads to soreness and pain in the breasts.
  1. Use purified lanolin cream, which is safe for application on the nipple and can help prevent cracking and dryness of the areola. One hundred percent purified lanolin, without any additives or fragrances, does not harm the baby. Also, there is no need to remove the cream from your nipple before breastfeeding.
  1. Use nursing pads to keep nipples dry, since a small amount of milk may drip out after breastfeeding. It can cause a moist environment that allows fungi to propagate. Use nursing pads to trap the milk and prevent excess moisture.
  1. Wash breasts with mild soap: Soaps can irritate and may exacerbate dryness of the nipple. Use a mild soap, especially one recommended for sensitive skin and with added moisturization, to keep the breast skin and areola hydrated. It can be especially helpful if you have eczema on your breasts.
  1. Dress in comfortable bra and clothes: Uncomfortable clothing may cause soreness of breasts due to excess pressure on the breasts. Wear clothes that are comfortable and allow your skin to breathe.
  1. Have acetaminophen or ibuprofen: If the pain is too much, then you can consider having acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Do not have other medicines without consulting the doctor and ensuring they are safe during breastfeeding (7).

Soreness and pain in the breasts when you are breastfeeding is temporary and seldom causes lasting complications. Managing the condition at home usually alleviates the symptoms and makes it better. Taking precautions and maintaining breast hygiene can minimize the risk of sore breasts.

[ Read: Itchy Breasts While Breastfeeding ]

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Have something to share about soreness and pain in breasts while breastfeeding? Tell us in the comment section below.


1. Sore Nipples. University of Michigan
2. Sore Nipples. University of Rochester
3. Mastitis. NHS
4. Contact Dermatitis. National Eczema Association
5. Common Breast Problems. University of Michigan
6. Ringworm (Tinea). Harvard Medical School
7. The Transfer of Drugs and Other Chemicals Into Human Milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics

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Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo took writing as a profession right after finishing his MBA in Marketing. Earlier he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Botany & Zoology from the autonomous St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai. Rohit has also done a Stanford University certification course on breastfeeding. This botanist-zoologist turned writer excels at life sciences, and at MomJunction he writes everything about pediatrics and maternal care. In between writing and being overly curious, he spends time cooking, reading, and playing video games. LinkedIn profile –
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