31 Aug Are My Breasts Okay for Breastfeeding?
What do you need to know about your nipples and breastfeeding? Learn how to know if yours
can do the job (more than likely, yes!) and how to protect them while they do it.
How do I know if my nipples are ‘right’ for breastfeeding?
Like all women, nipples come in all shapes and sizes, and this is to be expected. Some women have a large areola and some are small; some women have large, pointy nipples while others have nipples that are tiny and bud-like. The size of the nipple is largely irrelevant. This is because when babies breastfeed they take the whole nipple to the back of their mouth along with a large mouthful of breast tissue. This means that if your baby is positioned and sucking properly (i.e: latched) they should be able to breastfeed no matter what size your nipple and breast. Yes, small breasts are just as good as large, when it comes to feeding!
Whew, what a relief, right? However, if you’re concerned get help from a breastfeeding clinic professional or lactation consultant so you can be assured that your baby is latching correctly. Seek advice immediately if you’re finding it difficult to latch or it’s painful to breastfeed. The right advice could make all the difference – even a small change in position can make the difference between a painless, satisfying feed and sore nipples and a hungry baby.
What if I have flat or inverted nipples?
Not sure if you have flat or inverted nipples? Do the squeeze test by placing your fingers on the edge of your areola (the dark bit around the nipple) and press downwards and inwards lightly about an inch behind your nipple. If the nipple protrudes forward, you’ve got no worries. If your nipple retracts inward – it’s confirmed – you’ve got inverted nipples.
Most nipples generally bump outwards, even at rest, while flat nipples are pretty much always flat but if you’re unsure whether you’ve got flat nipples, ask your doctor to do a quick exam and give you an opinion. Either way, you shouldn’t fret – the way your nipples look on the outside doesn’t affect the production of your breast milk and shouldn’t inhibit your ability to dispense it either!
Is there anything I can do about flat or inverted nipples?
Many practitioners believe that you don’t need to do anything beforehand since most flat and inverted nipples perform their job as well as any other nipples once breastfeeding begins. Many new moms stress about having inverted nipples when really they’re just flatter than other women’s nipples. These moms might have come across negative comments about their chances of breastfeeding, which knocks their confidence. It’s important to remember that lactation consultants are able to help moms with inverted nipples to breastfeed.
If you really have inverted nipples it can help you both to give baby lots of skin-to-skin contact and free access to your breast. This gives your baby the opportunity to work out what to do – babies have no preconceived ideas about what nipples should look like – they only have a strong instinct to root and feed. Once your milk has started coming in, offer your baby lots of feeds to keep the breast soft, so it’s easier for baby to deal with – you might have to express a bit at first, just to release some of the fullness in your breast to prevent your own discomfort. If you’re still worried that you might have very inverted nipples, you should speak to your doctor or an experienced lactation consultant when your baby is born. This is the time to get lots of help with positioning and latching him on so that he gets a full mouthful of your breast and is stimulated to suck, as early as possible. Usually, after the first few feedings baby’s vigorous sucking will apply negative pressure and help the tissue protrude. This is true for both flat and inverted nipples – and your baby will become better at grasping and drawing the nipple into his mouth as he gets bigger and stronger.
There is help for your nipples if you need it
It’s true that some women with flat or inverted nipples might need a little help to get the job done. There is no shame in this! Luckily, we’ve got things like nipple formers– these are plastic domes that are worn over your nipples that apply painless pressure to gently and gradually draw your nipples out. You can start using them before your baby is born but this isn’t strictly necessary as wearing them between feedings should be enough to draw the nipple out to an extent that they can easily be suckled.
Alternatively, you can try drawing out your nipples with a breast pump immediately before nursing. Don’t pump until let down, otherwise milk will start flowing and it won’t land up where it belongs – in your baby’s mouth. In some cases, you might be advised to try a negative pressure suction device, this helps make your nipples erect.
Preventing nipple soreness
Many mothers with flat or inverted nipples experience some degree of nipple discomfort or soreness. You might feel this as the nipple is drawn back into the baby’s mouth, stretching or breaking any adhesions under or on the nipple (adhesions are what cause your nipple to invert) . If the nipple draws back into the baby’s mouth during or immediately after feedings, moisture may become trapped and exacerbate the soreness. Patting your nipples dry after feedings and applying a thin coating of lanolin ointment or olive oil can help soothe your nipples.
Conclusion: persistence pays off
In almost all cases, the adhesions will gradually loosen and your baby will be able to nurse effectively as he grows bigger and stronger and becomes more efficient at nursing, whether you invest in gadgets or not. Be persistent in your dedication to nursing and remember that baby doesn’t ‘nipple feed’- he breastfeeds and once he is able to draw the nipple into his mouth, the shape of it doesn’t matter much at all. Babies grow incredibly fast, and her tiny mouth will grow to fit your nipples – whether it’s large, flat or inverted – before you know it!