Do 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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