- Make sure you practice good hygiene.
- Wash your hands before touching your breasts.
- Keep your breasts and nipples clean by washing them each day with warm water rather than soap. Soap can cause dry, cracked, and irritated skin, and can remove natural oils.
- Wear a supportive bra. Choose a maternity/nursing bra or a regular bra that fits well, but isn’t too tight. Cotton is good because it lets your skin breathe. Loose clothing is also good.
- Moisturize your nipples with your breast milk. After nursing your baby, gently massage it on your nipples and areola then let them air dry.
- Make sure your nipples dry completely after feeding.
- Leave your nipples uncovered or loosely covered between feeds to help them heal.
- Changing your nursing pads often, if you use them. This helps keep bacteria at bay.
Preventing breast problems
Breastfeeding is something you and your baby learn to do together, and it isn’t always easy, taking up to six weeks to establish. But don’t stress. Your midwife, lactation consultant, Plunket nurse, PlunketLine, or La Leche League will help you if you need more support and information.
Here are some tips to help you avoid painful breast problems like sore nipples, breast engorgement, blocked milk ducts, and mastitis.
- Make sure your baby is latching on correctly. Getting your child to latch well, and feeding your baby on demand can help prevent problems from developing.
- When you’re ready to take your baby off the breast, don’t pull them off. Slip your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth between their gums with the soft side of your finger (not the nail) next to the lip, so you gently break the suction between their mouth and your breast.
- If you’re expressing breastmilk, make sure the setting’s not too high on your breast pump.
- To help prevent blocked milk ducts, wear loose clothing and a well-fitted bra.
- Treat engorged breasts. If your breasts become painfully overfull, hard, and swollen, you can try having a warm shower before feeding to help soften the breasts, or apply cool face cloths (flannels) on the breasts between feeds, and feed on demand. Some women find cold clean cabbage leaves help reduce inflammation and relieve pain too. Take paracetamol as directed on the packet for pain (see your health professional if pain continues for more than a couple of days).
- Treat blocked milk ducts. A lump forms when milk builds up behind the blockage, and your breast starts to feel sore. It may become engorged in one spot, and might also look red. You might also see a white spot on your nipple. Try a warm compress on your breast before you feed, and gently massage any lumpy areas. It may also help to feed from the affected breast first, when baby is sucking vigorously. Cold packs after a feed might help relieve pain and inflammation. See your GP if you can’t clear the lump in a few days, or sooner if you develop a fever or feel unwell – this is a sign of mastitis.
Even when breastfeeding, keep doing your regular breast self-examination.
While it's normal for your breasts to feel lumpy when they're full of milk, the lumps should go away with breastfeeding, pumping, or massaging your breasts. If you notice a lump that doesn't go away on its own within a few days, contact your doctor to have it checked.
Looking after your breasts when you’re weaning
Weaning means stopping breastfeeding.
Sometimes your baby will wean themselves, and sometimes women decide or need to stop breastfeeding.
Whatever the reason for weaning, your body will still make breast milk for a period of time. It could take a few weeks or months to dry up the breast milk in your breasts. Here are some tips for caring for your breasts if you're in a situation where you want to stop making breast milk.
- Wear a bra that’s supportive but not tight.
- Use breast pads to soak up leaks.
- Use a cold compress on your breasts to help relieve swelling and discomfort.
- If your breasts are painfully full, pump or hand express a little bit of breast milk to relieve some of the pressure. If you pump a lot or often you'll continue to make more breast milk.
- Try not to touch your nipples or your breasts. Regular stimulation of the breasts and nipples tells your body to keep producing milk.
See your health provider if the pain continues.