Why Are My Nipples Sore
You’re lying on your back with a newborn baby on top of you, trying to nurse her. It’s been about an hour since she latched on for the first time, but it feels like forever because your breasts are so engorged with milk that they’ve become painful. You pull away from the baby and try to latch her again, but this time when you open your mouth, nothing comes out — there is no milk! Your husband suggests pumping some into a bottle to feed your daughter later, but what he doesn’t know is that you don’t have any hands left to pump.
It happens more than you think. Nursing mothers sometimes find themselves without access to their usual nursing supply, or maybe their babies develop reflux, colic, constipation, diarrhea, allergies, or another condition that makes feeding difficult. Sometimes moms get stressed by other pressures at home and end up not being able to nurse effectively. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself without enough milk for your baby, you may be tempted to give him formula. But it’s important to remember that breast milk provides everything your baby needs besides oxygen: nutrients, antibodies to fight infection, vitamins A and D, iron, calcium, and zinc. So even though you may feel frustrated and angry, sticking with breastfeeding will ensure that your child gets all those benefits that only come through nursing.
If you do decide to pump breast milk rather than nurse, keep in mind that pumping isn’t going to produce as much milk as nursing does. In fact, one woman who pumped every two hours was still producing only half of what a mother would expect to produce while nursing [sources: Brown]. If you want to increase production, consider getting a breast pump with a hand-held motor. These pumps use suction to extract milk. They also allow you to wear bras and avoid nipple chafing. Breast pumps have several parts, including a container where you store the expressed milk, a funnel, tubing, and a collection cup. There are electric pumps, which require electricity, and manual pumps, which are operated by hand. Pumps range in price from $150 to $900 [sources: National Milk Producers Federation; American Association of Family Physicians].
Another option for pumping expressed milk is to freeze it overnight and then thaw it before giving it to your baby. This method has fewer bacteria than refrigerated expressed milk, so it’s less likely to cause a bacterial infection. However, freezing and thawing your milk takes extra work (and money) and requires special equipment.
In many countries around the world, especially China, India, Southeast Asia, and Africa, infants are fed with wet nurses instead of their biological mothers. The practice of wet-nursing dates back to ancient Egypt and Greece. Today, however, most people in industrialized nations choose to nurse their children. Although wet nurses provide excellent care for premature infants, they may transmit dangerous diseases such as tuberculosis. Also, there are ethical issues surrounding whether a person should place herself in danger to help someone else.
Now let’s look at why your nipples might hurt.
Sore Nipples During Menopause
Menopause often brings hot flashes and night sweats, and these symptoms can lead to irritation of the chest area, particularly under the arms. The sudden change in hormone levels causes the body to shed its protective layer of fat cells, leading to dryness and cracking. Women with thinner skin are more susceptible to developing cracked nipples, as well as those who smoke cigarettes. Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can also contribute to sore nipples. When you’re nursing, the constant movement of the infant against your chest can further aggravate the problem. Even after the birth of a new baby, sore nipples can occur from excessive weight gain or poor circulation.
Your nipples may also hurt if you have a yeast infection or thrush (an infection caused by Candida albicans). Thrush usually occurs in the folds between your fingers and the base of your breasts. To treat the rash, soak a cotton pad with antifungal lotion and gently apply it to affected areas of your nipple. Yeast infections are typically accompanied by red bumps. Because yeast infections are easily spread from contact with infected secretions, wipe down surfaces that your baby touches, such as strollers and car seats.
Other factors that could cause sore nipples include tight clothing, rough towels, and frequent washing of the armpits and groin area. Clothing that compresses the abdomen can also squeeze the breasts, causing them to swell. Frequent bathing, shaving, or waxing can also irritate your nipples.
To reduce the risk of nipple discomfort, don’t expose your breasts to extreme temperatures. Keep showers short, and don’t use harsh soap or scrubbing pads. Try using lukewarm water and a mild soap. Avoid wearing tight-fitting tops and avoid rubbing your nipples raw with abrasive cloths. Consider applying a moisturizer after showering to prevent drying. Never pop a pimple near your nipples, and use gentle cleansers and soft brushes to exfoliate your skin. And avoid scratching or picking at sores or blisters — both can lead to scarring and infection.
If you experience severe pain, see your doctor immediately. He or she can rule out a medical issue and prescribe medications for relief. Some over-the-counter remedies include calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, and antihistamines. If you continue to suffer from pain, see a dermatologist, who may prescribe topical ointments.
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One way to relieve the pain of cracked or irritated nipples is to cover them with clear plastic wrap. Simply cut a piece of clear plastic wrap long enough to fit across your breast and curl it slightly at each side. Tuck the ends underneath your bra straps to secure it in place.
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