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How should my nipples feel when breastfeeding?

Many new moms wonder what their nipples should feel like when they start breastfeeding. Some discomfort is normal at first as your nipples get used to being sucked and stimulated frequently. However, if you have severe pain that doesn’t improve with time, something may not be right. This article will go over what normal and abnormal nipple sensations can mean so you know if your breastfeeding experience is on track or if you need to make adjustments.

What does normal nipple sensitivity feel like when breastfeeding?

It’s very common for nipples to be sensitive and tender when you first start breastfeeding. Here’s what to expect:

  • Tingling, prickling, burning or stinging sensation when your baby first latches on. This usually improves after the first 10-30 seconds of nursing.
  • Nipples feeling erect, hard and elongated immediately after feeding.
  • Soreness similar to the feeling of a minor sunburn or chafed skin.
  • Discomfort when nipples come into contact with clothing or when exposed to air.
  • Tenderness that feels better if nipples are kept moisturized with breast milk or lanolin.
  • Some visible skin cracking, flaking or peeling.

While the above symptoms are unpleasant, they are generally considered normal and should gradually subside within one to two weeks as you and your baby find an optimal latch and feeding rhythm. If discomfort does not improve by two weeks or starts to worsen, it’s a sign to get professional lactation help.

What do overly sensitive or painful nipples indicate?

Though some degree of nipple sensitivity and pain is expected at first, worsening or severe nipple pain can signal problems like:

Improper latch

An improper latch where the baby takes in too much breast tissue while nursing is a common cause of nipple injury. Signs of incorrect latch include:

  • Severe pain that doesn’t improve or worsens with feeding.
  • Nipples consistently appearing pinched, flattened or blanched after feeding.
  • Cracks, blisters, bruises or bleeding of the nipples.
  • Lipstick-shaped blisters or white spots on the tips of nipples.

Fixing the latch so less areola is pulled into the baby’s mouth will often improve nipple pain and sensitivity.


Thrush is a yeast infection of the nipples and/or baby’s mouth that can make nipples feel very sore, itchy or burned. Other symptoms include:

  • Intense stabbing or radiating pain that continues even after proper latch is achieved.
  • Deep pink or reddened nipples.
  • Shiny or flaky skin on nipples.
  • Shooting pain felt deep inside the breast tissue.

Anti-fungal creams and oral medications can treat thrush to provide nipple pain relief.

Bacterial infection

Cracked nipples are vulnerable to bacterial infections that cause increased nipple pain, swelling, oozing, fever and flu-like symptoms. Antibiotics are required to clear a breast infection.


Skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis can emerge on the nipple-areola complex, leading to itching, burning and scaly patches. Topical steroid creams are often effective treatment.


In rare cases, sudden severe nipple pain after feeding is caused by vasospasm, which is constriction of the blood vessels. Nipple tissue may blanch, become painful, and then return to normal color once the spasm ends.

Anatomical issues

Inverted, flat or protruding nipples can make it harder for baby to latch properly, resulting in more friction and nipple abrasion. Plastic shields or syringe/tube feeding at the breast are sometimes needed in severe cases until the nipples protrude more naturally.

When to seek help

See your doctor or lactation consultant anytime nipple pain:

  • Does not start to improve after 1-2 weeks of breastfeeding.
  • Worsens with time.
  • Prevents you from wanting to nurse your baby.
  • Is associated with breast infection symptoms like fever, swelling and flu-like achiness.

Left untreated, severe nipple pain and trauma can lead to early weaning. But skilled help with positioning, latch, pumping techniques and medical treatment can get breastfeeding back on track.

Tips for easing nipple soreness and sensitivity

While waiting for nipple pain to resolve, try these measures for relief:

  • Use breast shells/pads: Wearing plastic nipple shells inside your bra between feedings helps protect your nipples from friction and avoids drying. Change breast pads frequently to keep your nipples dry and clean.
  • Apply breastmilk: Letting your breastmilk air dry on the nipple naturally moisturizes, while the natural antibacterial properties help prevent infection of cracks.
  • Try hydrogel pads: Soothing, cooling hydrogel pads provide cushioning and help healing.
  • Try a nipple ointment or cream: Apply ultra-purified lanolin or thick ointments free of potential allergens after each feeding.
  • Avoid irritants: Stay away from harsh soaps, alcohol-based cleansers, abrasive washcloths and tight-fitting tops that rub against tender nipples.
  • Modify pumping: If using a breast pump, ensure flange size fits correctly and experiment with lubricants or hydrogel pads inside.
  • Improve latch: Work with a lactation consultant to troubleshoot any positioning or latch problems contributing to nipple injury.
  • Nurse laid-back: Leaning back and holding baby tummy-down on top of you can take pressure off sore nipples.
  • Try cold compresses: Applying cool compresses or chilled gel soothers right after nursing can calm inflammation.
  • Take painkillers: Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen provide relief before nursing sessions.

Making sure your nipples stay clean and moist while avoiding friction against clothing is key to preventing and healing nipple pain. If discomfort persists beyond two weeks or anything worsens, seek medical advice to identify causes and find solutions. With patience and treatment, most causes of nipple sensitivity during breastfeeding can resolve.

What do normal nipples look like while breastfeeding?

It’s common for nipple appearance to change during breastfeeding. Here are some normal nipple variations:

  • Darkening in color.
  • Increase in size and protrusion.
  • Wrinkling or ripples are more noticeable.
  • Blisters, cracks or flaking skin if mild.
  • Milk blebs (small white blister-like dots surrounded by redness).
  • Hair around nipples may seem thicker and darker.
  • Veins become more visible or pronounced.

As long as these changes are not painful or accompanied by swelling, odor, oozing, rash or worsening damage, they are usually considered normal responses to nursing. However, at any sign of infection or yeast overgrowth, seek medical evaluation.

What sensations are warning signs of abnormal nipple changes?

Sharp, burning pain is common initially but should improve within one to two weeks. Call your doctor without delay if you have:

  • Increasing pain during or after feeding.
  • Nipple bruising, bleeding or welts.
  • Intense itching or stinging that disrupts sleep.
  • Pus or blood leaking from nipple.
  • New rash spreading beyond nipple.
  • Loss of nipple skin or erosion.
  • Pain or lump in breast.
  • Flu-like symptoms along with nipple pain.
  • No relief from pain medications, ice, ointments or hydrogels.

These can indicate thrush, bacterial infection, serious trauma or other complications requiring medical treatment. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if your nipple symptoms concern you at all.


Some degree of nipple sensitivity or pain is expected when you start breastfeeding. But sudden, severe or worsening discomfort can signal problems like infection, thrush or improper latch. While waiting for health providers to identify and treat causes, use soothing measures like breast shells, ointments, painkillers and gentle handling of nipples. If pain prevents you from wanting to nurse, persistently disrupts sleep or doesn’t improve after two weeks, promptly seek lactation support. With the right troubleshooting, most causes of nipple pain and damage can be overcome, allowing you to successfully breastfeed.