Breastfeeding And Nipple Sensitivity

  • Drew Gallagher B.Sc. Biomedical Science, University of Manchester, UK

Motherhood is a big learning curve, and breastfeeding is another skill that doesn’t always come naturally.

Sometimes, breastfeeding can lead to degrees of nipple sensitivity, and a lot of this can be caused by incorrect latching, However, once you’ve found the best methods for you and your baby, these symptoms can quickly go away.

To find out more tips on how to alleviate sensitive nipples from breastfeeding or to learn new methods to promote latching in breastfeeding, read on!


Although often difficult to begin with, breastfeeding offers many nutritional benefits for infants, including protection from infections, improved long-term health, and delivery of vitamins and minerals essential for the growth of babies, as well as providing bonding experiences between mother and child. Sometimes, latching issues can lead to nipple pain or sensitivity. However, with time, many of these issues can be resolved, so nursing can be done without discomfort to the mother, and with efficient feeding for the baby.

What is latching?

In simple terms, latching is the way a baby attaches or connects to their mother's breast during breastfeeding. It's an essential part of the breastfeeding process, as it allows the baby to get the milk they need for nourishment. 

When a baby latches correctly, they take the nipple and a good portion of the areola (the darker area around the nipple) into their mouth. This ensures that they can effectively suckle and draw milk from the breast. A proper latch is important because it helps the baby get enough milk and prevents discomfort or soreness for the mother.

A good latch is characterised by the baby's mouth covering most of the areola, with their lips flanged outward like a fish's lips. The baby's tongue should be under the nipple, and they should be able to suckle with a rhythmic motion.1

It's crucial for new mums and babies to learn the correct latching technique to have a successful breastfeeding experience. Getting the latch right may take some practice, but with patience and support, both mother and baby can master this important skill.

Nipple sensitivity signs and symptoms

Mothers may experience different symptoms under an umbrella term of sensitive nipples. These could be:

  • sore nipples
  • burning or stinging pain
  • skin discolouration on the nipple
  • dry or chapped skin on the nipple
  • soreness of the breast

Causes of nipple sensitivity

In many cases, nipple sensitivity is caused by unsuccessful latching. It is important to keep trying and to correct as soon as possible. If you’re struggling, talking to your midwife or another medical professional to try new methods and allow for successful latching is advised.

Sore nipples can have various other potential causes to consider. One such cause is tongue-tie, where the strip of tissue connecting the baby's tongue to the floor of their mouth is shorter than usual, hindering their ability to latch onto the breast properly. This condition can lead to difficulties during breastfeeding.

Additionally, thrush, also known as "candida," is an infection that may develop when nipples become cracked or damaged. Its symptoms include intense pain in the nipples after breastfeeding, often described as burning or shooting sensations lasting up to an hour. 

If you suspect tongue-tie or thrush as the source of your discomfort, it is essential to consult your doctor promptly. They can provide appropriate treatment options for both you and your baby, ensuring a more comfortable breastfeeding experience.

Breastfeeding positions and techniques

Your hospital will typically provide instruction on the basic cradle hold, but through experimentation, you may discover that another breastfeeding position is more suitable for you and your baby. Here are some examples of other breastfeeding positions to try:

Cradle hold

Position your baby in a way that their head rests in the bend of your elbow on the side you'll be nursing. Use the same hand to support the rest of your baby's body. With your opposite hand, gently compress your breast so that the nipple points toward the baby's nose.

Crossover hold

Hold your baby's head with the hand opposite to the breast you intend to nurse from. For instance, if nursing from the right breast, cradle the head with your left hand. Employ your free hand to cup your breast, following a similar approach as the cradle hold.

Football hold

Nestle your baby's legs under your arm on the same side as the breast you'll be nursing from. Utilise that arm, supported by a pillow, to lift and hold your baby. With your other hand, cup your breast to facilitate the feeding process.

Side-lying position

Ideal for nighttime nursing, lie on your side with a pillow beneath your head. Ensure that your baby faces you, aligning their head with your nipple. If necessary, use your hand on the side you're not lying on to support your breast. Placing a small pillow behind your baby's back can keep them close and comfortable.

Laid-back position ("biological nurturing")

Lean back comfortably in a semi-reclined position on a couch or bed, supporting your upper back, neck, and head with pillows. Place your baby on your chest, tummy to tummy, allowing them to rest in any comfortable direction, with their cheek against your breast. Your reclined body will support your baby's weight.

This position capitalizes on gravity, enabling the baby to seek out your nipple naturally. However, you can also guide the process by holding your breast and directing it towards the baby to encourage latching. The laid-back position is particularly beneficial for newborns, babies who experience frequent spit-ups, or those with delicate stomachs.1

Alleviating sensitive nipples

Some women find that applying breast milk to their nipples can offer soothing relief. Additionally, products like Vaseline or lanolin are often used to alleviate dry or cracked nipples. After each feeding, it is recommended to allow your nipples to dry before dressing and to change breast pads regularly.

To prevent further irritation, it is advised to avoid using soap on your nipples, as it may dry out the skin. Opt for cotton, non-underwired bras if possible to provide comfortable support.

While facing nipple pain, it's best to refrain from using nipple shields and breast shells, as they won't improve your baby's attachment to the breast.

Lastly, it's important not to cut short feeding sessions in an attempt to alleviate pain, as doing so may not provide relief and could potentially reduce your milk supply.

Seeking support and professional assistance

If you’re struggling with sensitive nipples or finding a comfortable latching position for you and your baby, speaking to your healthcare provider or midwife is encouraged. They can help provide recommendations specific to you, as well as providing other resources or support networks. Breastfeeding is difficult to get the hang of for many mothers, so being patient with yourself, staying resilient, and reaching out to support groups is important.


Embracing the journey of breastfeeding involves recognising the importance of proper latching and understanding the signs of nipple sensitivity. By mastering the correct latching technique, mothers can ensure their babies receive adequate nourishment while minimising discomfort. Tongue-tie and thrush are potential contributors to nipple sensitivity, warranting timely consultation with healthcare professionals for effective solutions.

Exploring alternative breastfeeding positions allows mothers to find a comfortable and efficient method for feeding their infants. Applying breast milk, Vaseline, or lanolin can provide soothing relief for sore nipples, while opting for cotton, non-underwired bras supports overall comfort. Remembering not to shorten feeding sessions and seeking support from healthcare providers and support groups are crucial in overcoming breastfeeding challenges.

Armed with knowledge and resilience, mothers can embark on a rewarding and fulfilling breastfeeding experience, providing their babies with the best possible start in life.


1. How to Breastfeed Your Baby. What to Expect n.d. (accessed July 27, 2023).

This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Olivia Laughton

BSc Microbiology (IND), University of Leeds

Having studied undergraduate Microbiology at University of Leeds, Olivia has a huge interest in all things small. Building on her academic foundation, time spent working in the health communications sector sparked passion for medical writing and education. Bridging the gap between complex science and empowering the every-day individual with health insights is where Olivia’s commitment lies, aiding the navigation to the intricacies of the science and healthcare fields alike.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818