What are inverted nipples?
Breastfeeding offers many health benefits for a mother and her child. Research shows that breast milk lowers a baby’s risk of developing asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even leukemia during childhood. Breastfeeding also lowers a mother’s risk of depression, improves sleep, and aids in overcoming past adversity.
However, inverted nipples can make it difficult for some mothers to breastfeed their children. While most types of inverted nipples do not cause problems with breastfeeding, some inverted nipples can create issues for mothers and babies including:
- Problems achieving a deep latch
- Difficulties finding a comfortable breastfeeding position
- Sore nipples
- Skin chapping, cracks, or blisters
Recognizing the signs of breastfeeding difficulty due to inverted nipples helps you determine how to best treat the nursing issue and ensure your children get the breast milk they need.
Signs of breastfeeding difficulty with inverted nipples
While some mothers have no problem breastfeeding with inverted nipples, others may experience difficulties nursing. Possible issues include:
Difficulty getting your baby to latch on
An inverted nipple can make it difficult for an infant to latch onto a breast while nursing. Problems with achieving a deep latch can make it difficult for a baby to receive milk. Infants can become upset when breastfeeding is not successful, requiring mothers to calm their babies down before trying again.
Problems finding a comfortable breastfeeding position
Breastfeeding with inverted nipples can affect the position that is most comfortable for you and your baby while nursing, making breastfeeding difficult.
As a baby’s suckling causes an inverted nipple to be drawn out, some mothers experience nipple soreness for the first 2 weeks of nursing, and possibly longer. In rare circumstances, the nipples do not stretch but remain tight, causing stress points that can lead to cracks or blisters. If your nipples retract after breastfeeding, the skin can remain moist and become chapped.
Types of inverted nipples
Different types of inverted nipples can cause different degrees of difficulty with breastfeeding. Types of inverted nipples include:
Only part of the nipple protrudes with a dimpled nipple. You can pull the nipple out, but it won’t remain erect.
Some women have an inverted nipple on one breast and a protruding nipple on the other.
Slightly inverted nipples
Inverted nipples classified as slight only have a minor degree of inversion. Babies with a normal suck usually have no problem bringing the nipple out and receiving milk. However, premature babies or babies with a weak suck may have more difficulty at first.
Moderately to severely inverted nipples
These nipples retract so deeply when the areola is compressed that they may be at a level with or beneath the areola. This makes it more difficult for babies to receive breast milk.
Causes of inverted nipples
Inverted nipples can be caused by a number of different factors. Some of these causes include:
- Tiny bands of connective tissue that connect your nipple to your inner breast tissue may be responsible for your inverted nipple
- Short milk ducts can cause an inverted nipple
- If the connective tissue beneath your nipple is less dense than the connective tissue of a woman with protruding nipples, your nipples may become inverted
Diagnosing inverted nipples
Simply looking at your breasts won’t always reveal if your nipples are inverted. To diagnose inverted nipples, gently pinch the areola, or the dark area around the nipple. If your nipple retracts (or becomes concave shaped), then it is inverted. Inverted nipples also do not become erect when stimulated or cold. You may also have one inverted nipple and one protruding nipple.
Treatments for breastfeeding difficulties due to inverted nipples
You can use several breastfeeding products to help your baby nurse, including:
- Breast shells: These plastic shells are worn inside your bra and place pressure on the tissue around your nipple to make your inverted nipple protrude and make breastfeeding easier.
- Breast pump: You can use a breast pump or modified syringe to pull and draw out your inverted nipples right before breastfeeding.
- Nipple shield: This is a silicon nipple placed over your nipple during breastfeeding that provides your baby with the stimulation to trigger a suck reflex. However, you should only use nipple shields under the guidance of a lactation professional to prevent any problems.
In addition to breastfeeding devices, you may find stimulating your nipples or holding your baby in a more comfortable breastfeeding position makes nursing easier. If nipple soreness becomes a persistent issue, your doctor or lactation consultant can provide you with additional resources for reducing discomfort and enabling you to breastfeed successfully.
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