Breast-Feeding: Sore Nipples - Topic Overview

Pain during breast-feeding is a sign of a problem and should not be ignored. Although sore or tender nipples are common during the first few days of breast-feeding, it should improve. Normal soreness or pain usually occurs for about a minute when the baby first latches on to the breast. Pain that is severe or continuous or that occurs again after it seemed to resolve is a sign of a problem and should be corrected. Other problems may include cracked, bleeding, or bruised nipples.

Sometimes sore nipples develop when the baby begins to suck harder because he or she is not getting milk quickly. This often is caused by:

  • Improper positioning.
  • Problems with latching on.
  • A poor let-down reflex.
  • Inverted nipples.

Sore nipples and breasts may also result from:

  • The baby sucking for comfort ("hanging out") without a proper latch after falling asleep at the breast.
  • Pulling the baby's mouth away from the breast without first breaking the suction.
  • The baby having a short frenulum (the frenulum connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth). This is also called "tongue-tie."

Before and during breast-feeding

  • If your doctor says it is okay, take a small dose of acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) about 30 minutes before breast-feeding.
  • Make sure that your baby is latching on correctly. View a slideshow on latching to learn how to get your baby to latch on.
  • To minimize discomfort, start breast-feeding on the side that is less sore for the first few minutes, then switch to the other side. The baby's initial sucking is usually the most vigorous.
  • Express a little milk from your breasts right before a feeding. This can help with the let-down reflex and soften nipples so that the baby can easily and gently latch on.
  • Change your baby's position with each feeding. This changes the pressure from the baby's mouth to a different part of the breast.