Many pregnant women express a desire to breastfeed their baby after they are born. Breastfeeding, although natural, is a learned skill for you and your baby, but many mums report that once they got the hang of it, they found it really enjoyable and rewarding.
When you begin breastfeeding, your nipples may be sensitive and you can expect some early nipple tenderness. A little time and patience in the early stages, good attachment and taking care when getting baby on and off the breast should minimise sore, cracked nipples and this should cease to be a problem after the early weeks.
Here are some great tips that may assist in minimising damage to your nipples.
Look out for early feeding cues
Try to offer a feed before your baby starts crying. Waiting until your baby is crying is actually a late feeding cue and may cause some stress, making it harder for them to attach. Early feeding cues mean your baby is calm and they include:
- Making sucking motions with their lips
- Opening and closing their mouth
- Sticking out their tongue
- Puckering of their lips
- Moving their head from side to side, as if looking for something
- Putting their hands in the mouth and sucking on them
Establishing good technique
A well-attached baby can help prevent many breastfeeding problems, shouldn’t cause any nipple pain and drains the breast well. This helps ensure a good milk supply so your baby grows well.
Position yourself comfortably with back support, pillows supporting your arms and in your lap and your feet supported by a footrest if possible. Position your baby close to you so that they do not have to turn their head to reach your breast. Their mouth and nose should be facing your nipple.
A poorly-attached baby can cause soreness, grazed or cracked nipples and this may lead to further problems including pain, stress, blocked ducts and mastitis. If not rectified, your nipples can develop cracks. Breastfeeding with a cracked nipple is often painful and cracked nipples may bleed during breastfeeds.
You and your baby will find a technique that works for you after some practice. Experiment with various positions until you feel comfortable. To check that baby is attached well, look for these signs:
- Chin is pressed into the breast and nose is clear or only just touching the breast
- Your baby’s mouth is open quite wide and lips are not sucked in
- Tongue is forward over the lower gum (may be difficult to see — don’t pull them away to check or you might detach him)
- Your baby has much of the areola in their mouth
- There is no pain (new mums may feel a stretching sensation as the nipple adjusts to being drawn out)
- You may notice your baby's whole jaw moving they suckle and even their ears wiggling
- They should not be sucking in air or slipping off the breast and cheeks should not hollow as they suck
- After feeding, check your nipples for signs of stress, such as red stripes or a squashed look. If you have these signs, double check that your baby has latched on correctly during your next feed
Properly detaching your baby from your breast by breaking the suction with clean finger inserted in the corner of your baby’s mouth, before removing them from your breast is best. Allowing your baby to self-attach as often as possible while you both learn will also give you the best chance of avoiding damaged nipples.
Chose a good nipple balm
You may wish to use a nipple balm to keep the skin on the nipple itself and around the areola hydrated. This is to help prevent dryness and keep your nipples in good condition, making it easier for your baby to latch onto.
Look out for a balm made with natural and organic oils so you don’t need to wash it off before a feed. It can be used during pregnancy if you have dry nipples and you’re your bubba is born, applying the nipple balm after each feed will help keep your nipples soothed, hydrated and protected.
Other tips you may find helpful:
- Before feeding, express a few drops of milk and smear on the nipple
- If your breasts feel full and tender, massage your breasts gently and apply warmth, like a heat pack (ensuring it is not too hot) to help get your milk flowing
- Leave your bra open for a few minutes until your nipples are dry
- Change nursing pads frequently. Consider washable nursing pads if disposable ones are chafing
- Avoid using soap, shampoo, rough towels and anything else on your nipples that is drying or may damage the nipple skin
Seek assistance early if you are having difficulties - this is really important and can prevent further problems from occurring. You can contact your medical adviser, a lactation consultant, child health nurse or an Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) breastfeeding counsellor. Information is also available online at the ABA website.
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