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Breastfeeding | Lactation | Breastfeeding Pain

Are my nipples ever going to toughen up?

By Ceridwen Morris |

Breastfeeding Pain – Ouch!

Are my nipples ever going to toughen up?

by Rebecca Odes & Ceridwen Morris

January 20, 2010




o nipples really get calloused from breastfeeding? I don’t see anything about it the breastfeeding book I have, but people keep telling me my nipples will toughen up. Sounds unappealing. Though I guess it will help with the pain?

-I don’t want to get tough :

Dear I Don’t Want To Get Tough,

There’s no medical or physical evidence to support the idea that nipples are calloused or “toughened up” by breastfeeding. But people still say it all the time, perhaps to try to provide some strange reassurance: suffer now for future ease.

It’s true that breastfeeding in the newborn phase is much more likely to hurt. And it’s definitely helpful to hear that the painful phase is temporary.

But pain is not an inherent part of the process. Nipple soreness can happen for a number of reasons. The most common is an issue with how the baby’s mouth connects with the breast, or a “bad latch” in lactation parlance. A bad latch can be resolved by repositioning the baby and/or the baby’s mouth on the areola. Latch can almost always be improved with more practice and good support. Lactation consultants or other mothers experienced with breastfeeding can look over your shoulder and give you some pointers, if this should arise for you. There are also some well-illustrated books that can help.

Soreness can occasionally be caused by other issues, such as an infection or a plugged duct beneath the surface of the nipple.

In any case, if you’re having a lot of pain when you nurse, it’s a good idea to investigate it. There may be something you can do about it, and if so, it’s better to act sooner rather than later. Latch issues are easier to tweak early on, and an infection that’s left unchecked can get stronger and more problematic.

Stick with a good breastfeeding book and get good support. And if you’re worried about your nipples from an aesthetic perspective, don’t fret. We’ve never heard of a woman bemoaning her rugged elephant-skinned nipples post-breastfeeding, and we doubt you’ll be the first.

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This article was written by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris for, the magazine and community for a new generation of parents.


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About Ceridwen Morris


Ceridwen Morris

Ceridwen Morris, CCE, is a writer, childbirth educator and the co-author of From The Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Becoming a Parent.

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14 thoughts on “Breastfeeding | Lactation | Breastfeeding Pain

  1. Justina says:

    I would go even further and say breastfeeding in the early weeks may be sore but it should be a sore that would be analogous to the soreness of a new workout plan–the sore that comes with a new activity. If breastfeeding crosses soreness into pain, especially the toe curling, gasping type pain, please get some help with how the baby is latched and the positioning you are using. Some babies, especially early or “near term” babies have immature suckles, and other babies may have tongue tie or unusual palates, or some babies may suckle better from non-traditional positions, especially if the mother’s breasts/nipples are unusually sized or shaped and the baby is smaller.

  2. breastfeedingtruisms says:

    This is just one in a long line of articles, books, videos that continually espouse the theory that breastfeeding only hurts if you are doing it wrong. Well, I am currently breastfeeding my second son and after going through the experience twice and talking with countless breastfeeding friends, it absolutely hurts in the beginning. And many of us would disagree with the idea that it is just a mild soreness. In fact, toe-curling, bite your lip, and try not to cry pain is exactly what it felt like for the first month. When looking for advice, everything I saw just said the latch must not be right. I’ve had at least five lactaction specialists watch me nurse and they all agree that the latch is right. Finally, one admitted that it does hurt in the beginning. Wow, I wonder if she’ll be kicked out of the club for admitting such a dirty little secret! But, the good news is that the pain does go away. The only logical explanation is that some kind of “toughening up” is going on because one week it hurts like the devil and then it is all smooth sailing. I can only assume that more “experts” don’t admit that pain is normal in the beginning out of fear that women will just give up, but I believe we are stronger than that.

  3. sprout says:

    I’m just concerned that the next Babble headline email I get will be “Why we are totally over breastfeeding.” I guess this is how the pendulum swings.

  4. Alittlecracked says:

    In my group of friends, experience of pain, “toughening up,” and so forth has been completely all over the spectrum. Some women had no pain, some were mildly uncomfortable, and some had very painful experiences. However, by about the 1 month mark, nobody was still having pain issues. I personally think it is very dependent on your breast shape, size, skin type, sensitivity, and then a lot to do with your newborn. My nipples were nearly immediately cracked, had blood blisters- and remarkably painful. Horrible… for about a week. My lactation consultant and my friends all said my son’s latch looked perfect and gave me a lot of sympathy. Everyone said it would pass. And within a week it healed up, stopped being painful, and became a part of being a mom I really enjoyed. And there was no hardening, callouses, or other visual or textural changes. I ended up nursing for about 18 months. In the end, I think the skin just had to adjust to being in a baby’s mouth about 13 times a day. It is a big change for the oil glands, etc, and it makes sense that it might not go perfectly well for many people.

  5. jeaherendeen says:

    Positioning is EVERYTHING. Nipples hurt when baby’s latched onto the nipples alone, rather than the whole aerola. Get baby to open WIDE (by touching his/her lower lip w/ nipple until he/she does), and then just cram that boob in there. Also, aim your nipple toward the BOTTOM of baby’s mouth, rather than towards the roof of the mouth. Yes, it’s a bit of a challenge, w/ little newborn and great big humungous rock-hard breasts. (Expressing some breast milk first to make them a bit less rock-hard can help.) My first week of breastfeeding #1 was horrendous–nipples were sore, and my CNM (who’d never nursed a baby) advised topical Vit. E. ointment. My nipples INSTANTLY cracked & bled. OW!!! I threw out the ointment, and baby & I howled together for a couple of days; she before I fed her, and I while I fed her. But it was only 2, maybe 3, days; and I never had that problem with the next 4 kids because I knew how to position things correctly. More tips for pain-free nipples: do NOT wash them with soap & water; put BREASTMILK on them to get them to heal fast; and let them air-dry before packing them away inside your clothing again. (Read later that a lot of people are allergic to the fish oil vehicle in Vit. E. ointment.)

  6. phdinparenting says:

    You raise some good points, but don’t get into a lot of detail around what is normal and how to fix the problem. I wrote a substantive piece on this issue a few weeks ago on my blog and have had more than 50 comments so far from women telling their stories:

  7. hipparchia says:

    The best breastfeeding advice I read: “endure the baby for three days and it should be alright”. Even with perfect latch the skin needs to stretch and may crack.
    Use lanolin ointment and hang in there.
    As for permanent changes- you may find your nipples are actually better-looking. Also wiser to hang in there for several months until milk supply adjusts. I would not cut off breastfeeding in the initial months while there is still some hyperlactation- you may be in for a nasty sag. Breasts can very well regain shape during breastfeeding.

  8. DeansMama says:

    This is a topic that is so infuriating to me because I heard it all the time — “If you are doing it right it shouldn’t hurt.” That is totally ridiculous in my opinion. With my first son I went through a horrible period of pain and blisters and I took all the advise out there and I totally blamed myself….I was a terrible mom already right? I went on to nurse him for 15 months and loved the experience by the way. Then with my second son it was again painful – with cracks, blisters, bleeding, etc. I ignored all the advise and just stuck with it. After a month it was smooth sailing (and still is 6 months later.) Here is my thoughts: If someone sucked on your pinky (or any other body part) for approximately 12 hours a day then it would eventually hurt too. It is friction and pressure and moisture! Of course it is going to hurt at first! No, you are not a breastfeeding moron if it does hurt. Yes, you do “toughen up” but it is not like a callous and it is all worth it in the end.

  9. jojo44 says:

    Use 100% lanolin creme and get as much help as possible from a certified lactation consultant (and nurse, preferably). 

  10. GP says:

    Like my doula, who is an LC told me, “unless you are used to someone sucking on your titties 12 hour a day, it is going to hurt a little at first.” She was right. After about 2 weeks it didn’t hurt. I don’t know if it was a matter of toughening up, just getting used to…

  11. 2cents says:

    I hurt for three months folks. I did everything right. I was with the lactation experts from day 3. My nipples were inverted (and let me tell you they are no longer and will never be again). But that was a painful restructuring. I was cracked, bleeding, and suffered mastitis 3 times! Almost gave up but didn’t. And for so much of that time I kept thinking back to all the books that told me that if I was doing it right it shouldn’t hurt! I was so emotional at the time that I spent a good amount of time blaming me. I had excellent support in my husband and one spectacular mommy friend who saw me through. Looking back there was nothing else I could have done and wished the literature was more thorough.

  12. GiantPanda says:

    Totally agree with 2cents. For some people it just hurts, even if you are doing everything right. First kid it felt like torture every time I fed him for the first month. You know those pictures from Iraq where they hooked the prisoners up to batteries with the cables attached to their nipples? That would about approximate the pain I felt every time the kid latched on. Second was not quite so bad, because I got in there early with the lanolin cream, but it was still mighty tender for at least the first month. However, I still totally endorse breastfeeding, and am so very glad and grateful that I was able to BF my two.

  13. Annika says:

    I was sore with both of my babies for the first week or two. I personally think it’s because the milk is thicker at first, and it’s moving through these tiny holes…I would curl my toes, wince, breath deeply (like in labor) while breastfeeding. After those couple/few weeks, it did not hurt. So my advice is to stick it out, suck it up, and it gets better. All the moms I know have pain with a brand new baby breastfeeding.
    Lanolin cream applied before showering (to protect the nipples) really really helped me not have any cracking or bleeding with #2.

  14. gretchen bedell says:

    It could be when you hook up your vacuum (aka the baby) and he “draws up the nipple” and SUCKS THE BEJESUS OUT OF YOU there could be some pain.
    Or the fact that your ladies are constantly wet and subject to mild friction (see drawing up) so the skin comes off and they become scabby.  (I’m pretty sure the last time I skinned my knee I didn’t think sucking on it every two hours would speed the healing process.)
    Or when your milk lets down with the fury of a thousand stinging bees.
    So EVEN WHEN YOUR DOING IT RIGHT it can hurt.  After the first two weeks it stops hurting quite as much and you stop caring so it all evens out.
    But the lanolin is good too.

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