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Breastfeeding is one of the leading causes of nipple scabs. Many women are surprised to find that breastfeeding, which seems so natural, is often a painful experience at first.
The good news is that while nipple pain and even cracked, bleeding, and scabbed nipples occur quite commonly, these are usually short-term issues that can be resolved. Even if it’s difficult at first, most women are able to breastfeed their babies.
One of the primary reasons for nipple scabs caused by breastfeeding is simply that the skin of your nipples is very sensitive. They’re not used to the level of abrasion and stimulation that occurs when breastfeeding.
It’s common for women to experience nipple pain during the first few days of breastfeeding, which then decreases as the nipples become accustomed to the process.
However, if a baby is positioned incorrectly, has a poor latch, or has anatomical issues such as a tongue-tie, nipple pain may not go away. These issues can even cause nipples to crack and bleed, which then leads to scab formation.
Yes, you can continue to nurse if you have nipple scabs. If you’ve developed nipple scabs or are experiencing pain with breastfeeding, it’s best to discuss it with your doctor or a lactation consultant immediately. They’ll be able to help troubleshoot and find solutions so your nipples can heal and you can breastfeed painlessly.
Lactation consultants may be available:
- at the hospital where you deliver your baby
- through your baby’s pediatrician’s office
- from local breastfeeding support groups
They can help ensure that your baby is positioned correctly and latching well. They can also assess your baby for what may be affecting their ability to nurse well.
While breastfeeding is one of the most common causes of nipple scabs, there are other reasons someone might develop scabs on their nipples. These include:
- Sports. Participating in sports such as running, cycling, or surfing can cause nipples to become chafed and scabbed.
- Eczema of the breast. Eczema is a skin condition that may cause nipples to become irritated to the point that they bleed and scab.
- Paget disease. A serious skin condition that causes scabs on the breast, Paget disease usually indicates cancer of the breast.
- Nipple injury. A nipple may be injured during activities, such as vigorous sucking or rubbing during sexual activity.
- Burns. Nipples may burn from exposure to tanning beds or the sun and scabs may form.
If you experience nipple pain, cracking, bleeding, or scabbing from breastfeeding, it’s best to consult your doctor or a certified lactation consultant immediately. They can help you determine the cause of your pain and find a solution. Nipple scabs are often caused by improper latching, which results in nipple trauma and injury.
Your lactation consultant may recommend treatments such as:
- pumping for a day or two while your nipples heal
- using a nipple shield
- applying purified lanolin ointment
- rinsing your breasts in saline after nursing
- using warm compresses or cold gel pads to help soothe your nipples
One study of nursing mothers found that applying peppermint essence to the nipples after feeding significantly reduced pain and promoted healing of injured nipples. Another solution to your nipple scabs may be simply changing the position you sit or lie when breastfeeding.
If you’re an athlete with nipple scabs, it’s important to wear sports bras and clothing that fits well. Bras and bodysuits that’re too tight or too loose may exacerbate chafing. Fabric should also be breathable and moisture-wicking.
You also may be able to use purified lanolin ointment or powders to help reduce chafing. If your scabs are severe, you may need to take a short break from the activity that’s causing the scabs to allow them to heal.
If you’re experiencing a rash accompanied by nipple scabs or nipple scabs that don’t have an apparent cause, it’s important to see your doctor. They can help determine why you have nipple scabs and ensure that you receive effective treatment.
Breastfeeding mothers can prevent nipple scabs by seeking help with any breastfeeding issues right away. Working with a certified lactation consultant can help you avoid pain.
To keep nipples moist and free of cracks throughout breastfeeding, it’s important to:
- practice good hand-washing to prevent infection
- keep breasts clean and dry
- apply purified lanolin or expressed breast milk
Shop for lanolin nipple cream.
Women who aren’t breastfeeding can help prevent nipple scabs by:
- avoiding burns from sun or tanning beds
- wearing breathable bras and clothing that fit properly
- keeping breasts clean and dry
- consulting your doctor if you develop a rash or scabs that don’t go away or don’t appear to have a cause
Nipple scabs commonly occur in breastfeeding mothers, especially at the very beginning. Women who aren’t nursing may also develop nipple scabs.
If you have nipple scabs, it’s important to talk to your doctor to determine the cause and begin the best course of treatment.