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Troubleshooting Breastfeeding Part 1- A Good Latch and Helping Sore Nipples


Many women make the assumption that because breastfeeding is natural, it’s easy. After all, our bodies were built to do this, right? Unfortunately, oftentimes it’s more complicated than that. If you find yourself among those struggling with breastfeeding, you aren’t alone. Breastfeeding comes with a learning curve. Even if you nursed your first baby with no problems, your second one might throw you a curve ball. Even mothers of large families sometimes have trouble. In part 1 of Troubleshooting Breastfeeding we will discuss the things which will give you the best start to learning how to breastfeed; a good latch; and how to help sore nipples.  


The Importance of the First 6 Weeks

Unfortunately, babies aren’t born knowing how to successfully breastfeed, they have to be taught. The first 6 weeks of your baby’s life are the most crucial time for establishing a good breastfeeding relationship. Learning how to properly latch takes time. If you introduce an artificial nipple into the situation, you are setting yourself up for failure as the mechanisms for sucking on an artificial nipple and breastfeeding are very different. So it is best to focus on breastfeeding without the use of a bottle or pacifier until you have solidly established a breastfeeding routine.

The first 6 weeks are also very important for building a good milk supply. Milk supply is based on demand. The more your baby nurses, the more your body will step up milk production. Supplementing with a bottle, pumping, and using a pacifier to sooth your baby, instead of nursing, will all interfere with your milk supply. 


A Note on Nipple Shields

While they are often recommended by hospital staff and lactation specialists, nipple shields often cause more harm than good. They are a form of artificial nipple and will interfere with learning a proper latch. They also block the signals that your baby sends to your body and can interfere with milk supply. While they can be helpful if your nipples are very damaged, they can make the problem of nursing without pain worse for the long run.


Teaching Your Baby to Breastfeed

A proper latch is the most important thing for you and your baby to learn. Unlike a bottle nipple, which responds to any sort of compression, your breasts will only expel milk if being properly compressed. If your baby is not latched properly your nipples may be damaged and the experience will be painful.  Learning a proper latch and teaching your baby how to latch will solve a multitude of problems. See out article on Teaching Your Baby to Breastfeed.


Clamping Down

If you are practicing a proper latch technique, but your baby keeps clamping down on your nipple, there are a couple of things you can try.


  • Teach him to open wide. Before you latch your baby, push down gently on his chin, and help him to open wide. Open your mouth wide at the same time, and then say, “open wide.” Your baby will learn from your cues that he needs to keep his mouth open wide.
  • The more of your areola that you can place in your baby’s mouth the better. Using the C or U shaped sandwich hold will help with this (See Teaching Your Baby to Breastfeed). This will keep your baby from being able to clamp down on your nipple.
  • If your milk supply has come in strong, and you have a very forceful let down, your baby may be clamping down to stop the flow of milk from overwhelming him. If you feel this is the case, express your milk by hand until letdown occurs, and your milk is flowing less forcefully. Then latch your baby on. As your baby grows, he will become more accustom to your milk flow and you will no longer need to do this step.   


Dealing With Flat Nipples and Engorgement

 When your milk comes in and your breasts become engorged, or if you have flat nipples, it can be more difficult for your baby to properly latch on. To help relieve the pressure and to get your nipples to stick out farther, hand express some of your milk before you latch your baby on. If you have naturally flat nipples, practicing a proper latch and compressing the areola with the sandwich hold discussed in our Teaching Your Baby to Breastfeed article, will help to draw your nipples out.       


Nipple Pain

 While nipple pain is common in the beginning, it is not normal for breastfeeding to be painful. If you are experiencing nipple pain at any time, you need to adjust your latch. Carefully use your pinky finger to break your baby’s latch, by pushing in on the corner of his mouth. Do not pull your baby off of your breast, as this will damage your nipple. Then re-latch him, so that you are comfortable.    


Healing Nipples

 Many mothers experience some nipple damage while they are learning to properly latch their babies. Though it is painful, nipple damage does not mean that you have to stop nursing. As long as you are practicing a good latch, your nipples will heal, even if you continue to nurse.

A good lanolin based nipple cream, such as Lansinoh will sooth your nipples and help them to heal. Applying a nursing safe nipple cream, before you nurse, can also help damaged nipples feel less painful while nursing.

Do not dry your nipples with a hair dryer or sun lamp, as some wives tales suggest. The best and most effective way for sore nipples to heal is through the application of creams and exposure to breastmilk. Breastmilk is naturally antibacterial. You can rub breastmilk into your nipples along with a good nipple cream to help speed healing along.


More Resources:

I can’t emphasis enough how important a proper latch is to a successful breastfeeding relationship. Avoiding artificial nipples in the beginning and mastering the latch, will insure that you are able to breastfeed successfully.

For more information on troubleshooting breastfeeding see Troubleshooting Breastfeeding Part 2 and 3.

The Womanly Art Of Breastfeeding I can’t recommend this book enough. All women breastfeeding or preparing to breastfeed need to have a copy of this book. It has everything you will need to successfully breastfeed.

La Leche League Website This is a great resource for all breastfeeding mothers.   


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