As a new mother, you tend to focus completely on your baby’s needs and often forget to care for yourself. Breastfeeding is bound to cause some amount of discomfort but it shouldn’t be a source of constant pain. Ignoring nipple care, especially during the first few weeks of nursing can lead to sore, tender and even cracked nipples. Nipple care is important because it ensures that nursing is a time of bonding between you and your baby.

5 things you need to know about nipple care when breastfeeding

Your breasts will undergo several changes once you start breastfeeding. For the first few days after your baby is born, you will produce less milk (called colostrum) that is yellowish in color but within 5 days, your body will start to produce mature milk. This can will make your breasts feel fell and firm and even tender to the touch. It is during the first few weeks that you are likely to develop some amount of nipple soreness. You are also likely to experience soreness after about 6 months, when your baby starts teething. The good news is that there are several steps that you can take to prevent as well as treat sore nipples while breastfeeding.

Get a good latch

A poor latch results in poor milk transfer which will cause your baby to suckle harder which will lead to sore and cracked nipples. Make sure that your baby latches on correctly as this will minimize nipple discomfort while breastfeeding. To ensure that your little one gets a good latch, aim your nipple towards the roof of your baby’s mouth when his mouth is wide open so that he latches on to your nipple as well as the area around it (areola). Lasting pain or a pinching sensation is an indication of a poor latch so when this happens place a clean finger into your baby’s mouth to help him latch on correctly.

Avoid soap and shower gel

The small bumps on your areolas (called Montgomery tubercles) are sebaceous glands that help to moisturize and protect your nipples. Soaps and gels can strip your skin of these natural oils and can cause further irritation to cracked nipples so avoid using them on your nipples. The skin on your nipples is thin and delicate so be very gentle when cleaning them. Rubbing your nipples to “toughen” them up is an old wives tale and should be avoided at all costs. Wash your nipples with warm running water and then dab them gently with a towel or let them air dry.

Use homemade nipple creams

As any nursing mum will tell you, nipple cream is an absolute must-have! Constant breastfeeding can leave your nipples sore, dry and even cracking. A nipple cream helps to soothe your chaffed nipples and keeps your skin soft and moisturized. However, some of the most popular nipple creams available in the market today contain ingredients that can cause respiratory distress, vomiting and diarrhea in infants. You can make your own nipple balm by crushing calendula flowers in a little olive oil. Apply this mixture to your nipples after nursing and about an hour before your shower. Olive oil prevents drying and cracking while calendula will help to soothe inflamed skin. Use this homemade nipple cream on a daily basis to reduce nipple irritation.

Apply breast milk to your nipples

Breast milk contains 3-5% fat so applying it to your nipples after each feed will help to keep your skin soft and prevent cracking. Researchers found that women who applied their own breast milk to their nipples experienced less irritation and quicker healing compared to women who used lanolin – the most common ingredient in nipple care products. Apply a little breast milk to your nipples after nursing and then rinse your nipples and let them air dry just before your baby’s next feed.

Express a little milk before nursing

Babies can suckle quite vigorously at the start of a feed in an attempt to increase the flow of milk. This increases nipple soreness and can even be downright painful. A simple way to prevent this problem is to express a little milk right before you breastfeed your baby. This will help to increase milk flow which means that your baby will not suckle as vigorously. You can also apply a warm compress  to your breasts before nursing as this helps the milk to flow. Apply a cold compress right after a feed to reduce soreness and swelling.

Breastfeeding offers several health benefits from a lowered risk of asthma and allergies to fewer bouts of ear infection, diarrhea and respiratory infections. Researchers also found that breastfeeding can decrease the severity of pneumonia in children under 1 year. Some studies indicate that breastfeeding may also be linked to higher IQ levels later on in life. Breastfeeding is an important part of your child’s growth and development so take steps to ensure that nursing is a pain-free experience for both you and your baby.