Sore, Cracked, or Bleeding Nipples While Breastfeeding

Sore, cracked, chapped, scabbed, and/or bleeding nipples are something you may experience while breastfeeding. It takes time for you and your baby to acclimate to this new experience, so soreness tends to be strongest in the beginning, subsiding as you continue to breastfeed. But what about other symptoms? Learn why sore, scabbed, and chapped nipples occur when breastfeeding, what you can do about them, what happens when they’re cracked with fissures and/or bleeding, and more.

What Are Sore, Cracked, Scabbed, and Chapped Nipples?

Why does breastfeeding hurt sometimes? You’re definitely not the only one asking this question! We have plenty of helpful and reassuring advice on breastfeeding in general, and in this article, we’ll tackle some of the challenges that can crop up, such as nipple pain and soreness, cracked nipples vs. chapped nipples, and more. In this section in particular, we’ll identify the different types of nipple pain that may occur alongside breastfeeding.

Sore, Tender, Painful Nipples

Nipple soreness while breastfeeding or after a feeding is quite common, especially when you’re just getting started. You’ll likely feel these symptoms, not always see them. Of course, specific sensations can vary from person to person, but it’s possible to experience any of the following:

  • Sensitivity to touch

  • Throbbing

  • Aching

  • Burning

  • Tenderness

  • Itchiness.

In some cases, visible signs do occur. You may notice redness along with nipple sensitivity or even experience swollen nipples while breastfeeding.

Chapped Nipples

Breastfeeding and pumping can sometimes lead to chapped nipples—nipples that are rough, reddened, and slightly cracked. During nursing or pumping, the skin can become irritated and then chapped from the constant chafing involved in these actions.

Cracked, Scabbed, Bleeding Nipples and Nipple Fissures

Nipple pain while breastfeeding can also accompany cracks or tears to the skin or even some bleeding. Cracked nipples during breastfeeding are an indication that there’s too much strain on the nipple tissue, which can leave your nipples vulnerable to infection, bleeding, and scabbing. Nipple fissures are another term for painful, cracked nipples, referring to the sore tears that may occur after breastfeeding.

Cracked nipples have a few symptoms, and may look red and dry, often at the tip. Nipples can also appear flaky and crusty when breastfeeding, and the nipple fissures may have scabs on them as they heal. Additionally, you might feel pain or soreness, plus general irritation or itchiness.

What Causes Nipple Pain While Breastfeeding?

The most common reason for any of the listed issues above is improper latching when first starting breastfeeding, with symptoms typically appearing during the first few days or weeks of nursing.

Latching has to do with how your baby is positioned when breastfeeding and how they suck on the nipple. If your baby’s mouth doesn’t cover enough of the areola, the darkened area of skin that surrounds the nipple, your little one will suck more forcefully on your nipple. So, if you're wondering “Why does my nipple hurt when breastfeeding?” the answer could be poor latching.

Nipple Pain After a Bad Latch

After a bad latch, your nipples might be sore, chapped, or scabbed. Again, this most often occurs when you first start to breastfeed, as you and your baby get used to the process. Statistically, 80 to 90 percent of breastfeeding parents experience nipple pain, including nipple fissures, so you’re not alone if you’re also experiencing these symptoms.

If your nipples hurt when breastfeeding, take a look at proper positioning and latching:

  • You shouldn’t need to move, shift, or reposition yourself when breastfeeding, so try to start in a comfortable place and ensure your baby doesn’t need to turn their head.

  • When you look down at your baby, you should be able to see an imaginary straight line running from their ears to their shoulders to their hip.

  • Touch your baby’s lower lip with your nipple, which will stimulate the rooting reflex.

  • Ensure your baby’s mouth is open wide, as if yawning, and bring your breast to their mouth. To properly latch, they’ll need to cover as much of the areola as possible and that your nipple is well inside their mouth.

  • If it still hurts, unlatch your baby’s mouth, but do so by breaking your baby’s suction with your finger to reduce irritation.

You’ll know your baby has a proper latch if their gums and lips form a “seal” over your nipple, covering a large portion (about one to two inches) of the areola. An asymmetrical latch is best, with more of your areola covered by your baby’s lower lip and a little bit less in the upper lip.

Nipple Pain After a Good Latch

It’s possible that your nipple still hurts even with a good latch while breastfeeding. This could be due to skin-on-skin friction. But if you have a sharp pain in your nipple while breastfeeding, such as a pain that shoots or burns throughout your breast, this could be spasms of the blood vessels. In that case, a heating pad or warm gel pack can provide relief. Of course, contact your healthcare provider if this happens often or if the pain is difficult to tolerate.

Other Causes of Sore, Cracked Nipples After Breastfeeding

You can also experience sore, tender, chapped, cracked, and bleeding nipples if you have engorged breasts. During pregnancy or when breastfeeding, you might overproduce milk, causing your nipple tissue to possibly stretch and crack.

If you use a breast pump, nipple pain and nipple fissures can occur if the suction settings are too high or if you use the wrong size breast shields. Be sure to contact your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant for help with these issues.

How Long Does Nipple Pain Last When Breastfeeding?

Sore nipples, or nipples that are painful, tender, chapped, or cracked, tend to get better after the first month of breastfeeding. These initial weeks are when you and your baby are getting used to the process and learning how to achieve a good latch.

If you have a cracked nipple with a nipple fissure, especially one that’s also bleeding, it can take a few days or even a few weeks to heal.

How to Relieve and Treat Sore Nipples When Breastfeeding

The best way to keep your nipples from cracking, chapping, and bleeding while breastfeeding is to help your baby properly latch. Once your little one gets the hang of it, your nipples will likely feel less painful, tender, and sore. An asymmetrical latch, in particular, can help protect the nipple. If you need any help or guidance on how to latch properly, you can contact your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant.

But it might take a little time to get to a good latch, so in the meantime, you can consider some other remedies. Below are a few treatment options for cracked nipples (nipple fissures) plus nipples that are sore, tender, painful, and chapped.

  1. Avoid using soap. Using soap when bathing your breasts could dry out or irritate your nipples. Instead, just use plain warm water.

  2. Apply expressed colostrum or milk. After breastfeeding, it helps to put a bit of your expressed colostrum or milk on your nipple. This can help provide some pain relief.

  3. Use a barrier ointment. Another strategy is applying a barrier ointment, such as medical grade lanolin (labeled as purified lanolin) after your nipples have air dried. As far as home remedies go for pain relief when breastfeeding, you can use coconut oil or even vegetable shortening in place of a prescribed or over-the-counter ointment.

  4. Soothe with cold compresses. Sometimes, you just need relief with something cool. A cold compress might do the trick.

  5. Apply a warm compress. When something cool isn’t working, try a warm compress or gel. Warmth can reduce pain and encourage healing.

  6. Air dry your nipples. Overly moist nipples are more vulnerable to tearing, so it’s best to make sure your nipples are air dried before putting on your bra or clothing. It also may help to avoid any moisture at least 30 minutes before breastfeeding.

  7. Wear breast shells. Breast shells cover your sensitive nipples to protect them from any friction in between feedings. However, it’s best to avoid those made of plastic, as it can trap in moisture. If you do use these, limit wearing them to no more than 30-minute chunks.

  8. Massage engorged breasts. You can also pump or massage your breasts before nursing if they’re too full for your baby to properly latch.

If sore nipples are due to an infection, such as thrush or mastitis, or if you develop an infection from cracked nipples while breastfeeding, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any treatment.

Cracked Nipple

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

You should contact your healthcare provider regarding sore or cracked nipples when breastfeeding if:

  • The pain is severe or long-lasting. Though sore, painful nipples are common during breastfeeding, the pain shouldn’t be intolerable or last for more than a few days.

  • You notice signs of an infection. Breastfeeding can increase the risk of developing mastitis, so keep an eye out for hard, red spots on your breasts and a fever. Your baby could develop thrush, which can also cause sore nipples and sore, red lesions in your little one’s mouth. Folliculitis is another infection caused by clogged hair follicles, often leading to redness, irritation, and itchiness on your breast.

  • You feel a lump in your breast. Breast engorgement and clogged milk ducts can also cause a lump, but it’s best to contact your healthcare provider if the lump doesn’t go away within a few days.

  • There’s discharge from your nipple. Milky, white discharge is likely just your breast milk. However, contact your healthcare provider if you notice other colors or consistencies, especially if the discharge is bloody or there’s blood in your breast milk.

Can You Still Breastfeed With Cracked Nipples (Nipple Fissures)?

If you’re able to solve the issue of pain or soreness by repositioning your baby and getting a proper latch, then you can still breastfeed, even with cracked nipples and even if they’re bleeding or have fissures. With that being said, if the cracks or soreness are causing too much pain, you might want to give your nipples a break. You can do so by simply expressing or pumping for a few days instead of breastfeeding.


It depends on the extent of the wound, but generally speaking, it could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to fully heal cracked nipples.

The Bottom Line

Cracked, sore, scabbed, bleeding, and painful nipples are common when breastfeeding, but they’re not necessarily “normal.” That simply means there are ways to help reduce the chance of experiencing these symptoms, mainly ensuring your baby has a good latch when breastfeeding. Still, many breastfeeding parents will experience this soreness with cracked nipples. So, when it does occur, use the strategies in this article to find some relief, and check out our tips from a lactation consultant.

In the meantime, enjoy those tender, breastfeeding moments with your little one, and be sure to reward yourself for all your hard work through the Pampers Club app, where you can get discounts on what every parent needs: diapers and wipes.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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