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Treating Sore Nipples When Breastfeeding

Have you been suffering from sore nipples? If your baby is not latching on well or isn't in the right position, it can cause nipple pain in the early days. Mums often describe the pain from a poor latch or poor sucking as ‘sharp’, or ‘stabbing’. It might hurt most as baby latches on and usually improves as the feed continues.

But with the right help and support, breastfeeding challenges like this can often be sorted out. As you and your baby learn the skill of breastfeeding, you will find that the pain gradually improves.

The first step is to ask your midwife, public health nurse, local Breastfeeding Support Volunteer or Lactation Consultant to check your baby’s position and latch. Once you have established that your baby's latch and position are okay, here are some factors, which could cause sore nipples:

Cracked And Split Nipples

  • from the HSE advises that mums should hand-express some milk and gently rub into the nipple area and leave to air dry after each feed.       
  • Gently massaging your nipples with warm fingers and 100% lanolin nipple ointment can also be helpful. Make sure you are in a warm room.       
  • Spread a small amount of 100% lanolin nipple cream on a clean dry breastpad and place over the nipple. Change the breastpad frequently to prevent moisture staying on your skin.
  • A hydrogel compress can give some relief too – Ask your pharmacist for details.
  • If you're finding that it's too painful to feed, some moms find that expressing their milk for a day or two allows their nipples time to heal, and they get to continue giving breastmilk to their baby.


Thrush is a fungal infection, which sometimes happens when your nipples become cracked or damaged. This means the candida fungus that causes thrush can get into your nipple or breast.  The pain, usually described as a 'burning sensation' often goes on throughout the feed and may continue even after the feed is over.

Thrush infections can also happen after you or your baby has had a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics may reduce the number of helpful bacteria in the body, allowing the candida fungus that causes thrush to spread.

You might notice white spots or plaques on the inside of your baby’s mouth, and your nipples may be red and shiny. But having thrush does not mean you need to stop breastfeeding: If you think you may have thrush, contact your GP to discuss treatment for you and baby.


Vasospasm is caused by the irritation of the blood vessels in the nipple – usually by whatever is causing the nipple soreness in the first place (poor latch/sucking or infection).

Mums who experience Vasospasm find that their nipples turn white and sore after a feed. This pain is described as ‘burning’, and it generally only begins after the feed is over. It may last several minutes or more, after which the nipple returns to its normal colour. At this stage a new pain develops, which can be ‘throbbing’ and it may last for seconds or minutes. Occasionally this will repeat.

A small number of mums may experience Vasospasm as a result of ‘Raynaud’s Phenomenon’. This is caused by vascular constriction, when the very small blood vessels constrict and the affected area becomes white and sometimes cold. Areas of the body commonly affected include tips of fingers and toes, as well as nipples.

If you think you may have Vasospasm, contact your midwife, public health nurse, local Breastfeeding Support Volunteer or Lactation Consultant for help to identify the cause and discuss possible treatments.

Self-treatment tips for treating sore nipples

As stated above, if you have ruled out any latching or position issues, the following tips might help.

  • Don't use soap to wash your breasts, as it dries out your skin. 
  • Wear a cotton bra, so air can circulate. 
  • Hand express a little milk at the end of a feed, so a drop or two can be gently massaged on to your nipple.
  • ​Let your nipples dry before getting dressed again after a feed or shower/bath. 
  • If you use breast pads, change them after each feed.
  • A thin smear of white soft paraffin can help to soothe cracked or bleeding nipples.

‘Every Breastfeed Makes a Difference’

Sometimes it can take a while to get into the swing of things (so to speak) with breastfeeding. But it's important to remember that this is perfectly normal, and there is plenty of help and support available for you and your baby.

This article has been sponsored by the HSE. For more expert advice and information on the support available, go to the HSE website

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