Breastfeeding: How to Care for Your Nipples

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 08, 2021

Breastfeeding is a natural process that should be a good experience for both you and your baby. It helps mom and baby bond together, and breastmilk has all the nutrients that a growing baby needs. However, it takes a little practice and patience to get it just right.

Many new moms may experience nipple soreness or discomfort when first starting out. This can be caused by the baby’s position, latch, or sucking. Luckily, there are several ways that you can correct this and care for your nipples to make sure breastfeeding is a special experience for both you and your baby.

How to Care for Your Nipples While Breastfeeding

While you’re breastfeeding, you should make of habit of checking your breasts and nipples on a regular basis. By doing this, you might be able to identify any possible problems before they get worse down the road.

Regular Breast and Nipple Care

While breastfeeding, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water before each feeding. You should only touch your breasts and nipples with clean hands.
  2. Wear a clean bra with proper support each day. Nursing bras are typically the easiest to use while breastfeeding. Cotton bras also breathe better and allow air to circulate.
  3. Avoid using soap or shampoo on your nipples. Wash your nipples with just water, as soaps can remove your natural lubrication. This lubrication prevents your nipples from drying out and cracking while nursing.
  4. After each feeding, put a few drops of breastmilk on your nipples. This helps to moisturize your nipple and fight off possible infections.

Sore Nipples Caused by Latching

Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, so if you find that one or both of your nipples is sore after a feeding, that’s a sign that your baby might not be latching correctly. This is the most common cause of nipple soreness while nursing. You might have to try a few different positions while holding your baby to find the correct one.

If your baby is latching correctly, your nipple should rest against their soft palate and shouldn’t cause any pain or discomfort. Correcting this positioning should make it much easier for your sore nipples to heal.

Another sign that your baby isn’t latching correctly is if you notice your nipples becoming flat, wedge-shaped, or white in color. To help your baby get a good latch, lightly tickle them so that they open their mouth up wide. Point your nipple up towards your baby’s nose and upper lip so that they can get more of your areola in their mouth and not just the nipple.

Caring for Sore Nipples

If you’re performing regular breast and nipple care and are still experiencing soreness, there are a few at-home treatments that you can try.

  1. Change your nursing pads when they become wet. Try to avoid using nursing pads that are lined with plastic.
  2. Don’t wipe off your nipples after nursing. After each feeding, allow your nipples to air dry naturally for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Try taking over-the-counter medication to help with the pain, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  4. Avoid using nipple shields. They don’t improve your baby’s latch and could further irritate your nipples.
  5. Pumping your breastmilk using a low-pressure setting can help your nipples heal.
  6. You can apply 100% pure lanolin to your nipples with a cotton swab after feeding to help with soreness.
  7. Let the baby nurse for as long as they need to. A common misconception is that short feedings can prevent sore nipples, but this is not true.

When to Consider Seeking Help

If you’re still having pain or soreness, you may want to reach out to a midwife or lactation consultant. They can help you determine whether your soreness is caused by improper latching or something else. If the cause is an improper latch, they can show you different positions or techniques to get it right.

Apart from poor positioning while feeding, soreness can also be caused by a number of different factors.

  • Your baby may have tongue-tie. This occurs when the frenulum, or the string of tissue under the tongue, is short and restricts the movement of the tongue. This can prevent your baby from getting a good latch.
  • An infection of the nipple.
  • Certain skin conditions, like eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis can cause nipple pain while nursing.
  • Vasospasm, which is the tightening of the blood vessels that surround the nipple.
  • A plugged milk duct or mastitis, which causes a hard knot to form in the breast.

Seeking out care can help you find the cause of your pain so you can correct it and get back to healthy, painless breastfeeding.

Show Sources


Penn Medicine: “Breastfeeding Care Instructions.”

Healthy WA: “Caring for your nipples when breastfeeding.”

La Leche League International: “Breastfeeding with Sore Nipples.”

UnityPoint Health: “What do I do for sore nipples?”

Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula: “Breast and Nipple Care.”

National Health Service: “Sore or cracked nipples when breastfeeding.”

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