Nipple care

How do I look after my nipples?

Mothers should avoid using soaps, creams, and ointments on their nipples. They can cause an allergic reaction, remove natural oils that protect the nipples, and increase moisture in the area, leading to nipple yeast infection. Such items can alter the natural smells of the nipple and areola that attract the baby. Normal nipples are best left alone. Painful nipples need specific treatment directed at the cause of the pain.

A) Normal nipples

Normal nipples are best left alone.

1) Avoid air drying

There is no benefit from air-drying normal nipples after breastfeeding and may be detrimental to damaged ones. This also uses up valuable time and needs effort.

Keeping the nipples dry is only a concern for mothers who have repeated yeast infections.

2) Avoid washing the nipples with water

There is no benefit to rinsing nipples with water before or after breastfeeding and this may remove odors that attract the baby to the breast (Varendi 1994). This practice may also remove healthy microbes and natural oils from the nipple and areola.

3) Avoid coating nipples with breast milk

Some mothers will coat their nipples with expressed breast milk after breastfeeding. There is minimal evidence of any benefit to this. This practice can cause the nipples to stick to the breast pad or bra as they dry and cause pain when these items are removed.

4) Avoid other products

It is best to avoid soaps, creams, ointments, and other products because:

  • Soaps can remove:
    • Natural oils that protect the nipple and areola.
    • Healthy microbes.
  • Creams and ointments can increase moisture in the area and give rise to nipple yeast.
  • Mothers may have an allergic reaction.
  • Such items can alter the natural smells of the nipple and areola that attract the baby (Schaal 1988).
  • Such items can harm the mother or the baby.
  • Such items may change the type of microbes of the areola.

Research on the effectiveness of olive oil, mint tea, mint cream, and purified lanolin on preventing nipple pain and damage is limited and not consistent and their use may have risks (Sağlık 2020).

B) Using a product for painful nipples

If mothers have nipple pain soon after birth or later or nipple damage, there is usually a specific cause which requires specific treatment. Non-specific nipple creams and ointments are less likely to fix a problem and may even make it worse.

References

Sağlık DK, Kısacık ÖG. Comparison of the effects of olive oil and breast milk on the prevention of nipple problems in primiparous breastfeeding women: a randomized controlled trial. Health Care Women Int. 2020 Dec 8:1-18

Schaal, B. Olfaction in infants and children: Developmental and functional perspectives. Chem Senses 1998;13(2)
 
Varendi H, Porter RH, Winberg J. Does the newborn baby find the nipple by smell? Lancet. 1994 Oct 8;344(8928):989-90