After nine months of pregnancy, we don’t blame you for not recognizing your own body. But when it comes to your nipples specifically, certain changes could mean breastfeeding isn't going that well, while others are just cosmetic. Here are eight things that breastfeeding can do to your nipples—and when you should worry.
If your nipple is white after feeding (known as blanching), it could be a sign your baby isn’t latching well and cutting off blood supply to your nipple. This is called vasospasm, and is often accompanied by burning, stinging or shooting pain. Fixing the latch usually fixes the problem, although vasospasm can also be a symptom of Raynaud’s disease, and unrelated to breastfeeding. Vasospasm is often misdiagnosed as thrush, because they have similar symptoms.
You may have heard that cracked and bleeding nipples are an unavoidable side effect of breastfeeding, but that’s not the case, says Taya Griffin, a lactation consultant in Toronto. “If a baby is latched on well, you shouldn’t have cracking or bleeding,” she says. If breastfeeding is painful, you may want to seek out a lactation consultant to help with your baby’s latch. Click here to learn more about preventing and treated sore, cracked nipples.
If your nipple comes out of your baby’s mouth flattened, or slanted like a new tube of lipstick, it’s a sign your baby’s latch when breastfeeding isn’t deep enough. You may not feel any pain, but this is still a cause for concern. “In the long term, the milk supply might suffer,” says Griffin.
Milk blisters, known as blebs, can be white, yellow or clear and look like a pimple on your nipple. They can be extremely painful, and are caused by milk getting backed up behind a milk duct opening, which can lead to blocked ducts and potentially mastitis, a breast infection. Blisters can often be treated at home with warm washcloths and saline solution but if it’s not going away, see your doctor or a lactation consultant.
Thrush is a yeast infection that can be on your nipple, or in the baby’s mouth, or both. You may notice itchiness, pain or white flakes, and your baby may have white, cheese-curd like patches in his mouth. Griffin notes that thrush is actually rare, and often misdiagnosed. One sign you have thrush is that breastfeeding has been going smoothly and without pain or symptoms, and then symptoms suddenly develop.
Very few women have truly inverted nipples, but some do have fairly flat or slightly inverted nipples, which can get drawn out once your baby latches on and starts feeding. In this case, your nipples didn’t actually grow, but once they’ve been drawn out they will likely stay in their new position, given the appearance of getting bigger.
You may notice your areolas—the circular area of pigmented skin around your nipples—got darker and acquired small bumps, which are called Montgomery’s tubercules. These changes actually happened during pregnancy, but many women don’t notice until breastfeeding, when they are spending a good deal of time looking at their breasts.
One lasting effect of breastfeeding is that your nipples might look droopy, or settle lower than they were before, after you stop breastfeeding. While you may not be entirely pleased with your new look, remember: You birthed and fed a baby! Your body is pretty cool, regardless of how it's changed.