Hard Nipples After Breastfeeding: Causes & How To Relieve

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

It’s no secret for breastfeeding women that our nipples go through A LOT during the process and usually get the brunt of the pain. 

Unfortunately, my breastfeeding journey wasn’t an easy one, and my nipples suffered a lot.

However, I was able to learn a lot about proper techniques and the source of nipple pain while breastfeeding. Now I hope to be of some help to new mamas who may be facing the same struggles! 

One problem I faced while breastfeeding was hard nipples. Ouch, right? 

While breastfeeding may cause temporary hardness to already sensitive nipples, nipple erection for an extended amount of time that is accompanied by pain is often a sign of a poor, shallow latch and improper sucking. For pumping mothers, poor positioning or incorrect flange sizes may be to blame.

It is normal to be concerned about how breastfeeding can affect your nipples, and it’s important to take steps to protect them! Let’s take a look at some struggles you may face as you breastfeed your little one. 

Nipples and Breastfeeding: What To Know

I don’t think I have ever paid as much attention to my nipples as I did when I was breastfeeding, but boy, am I glad that I did! Your nipples can tell you a lot about your technique when it comes to feeding your baby. 

Normal Nipple Response to Breastfeeding

You may feel a slight tug on your nipples while breastfeeding, especially when your little one first latches. Some mothers describe it as a “zing” that lasts a few seconds and then goes away. This is normal.

Your nipples may even be a little sore for a few days after you begin breastfeeding, especially for the first time. Pain, however, is not a normal response.

Breastfeeding should not hurt. With proper positioning and latch-on techniques, you can expect little or no nipple soreness.  

Hard Nipple Breastfeeding

Nipples are very sensitive and often get hard in response to stimulation. The pull from your baby’s suck can cause your nipples to get erect and hard.

However, if the hardness is associated with pain or does not go away after a feeding, it could be a sign of a latch or sucking problem. 

Nipples Stay Hard After Breastfeeding

Your nipples should look the same when you pull them out of your baby’s mouth as they did when you put them in.

If you are experiencing hard nipples for a while after a feeding, you may need to check your baby’s latch.

A shallow latch can cause a baby to compress the nipple and decrease blood flow resulting in hard, often tingly, and throbbing nipples. 

What To Do

If you are experiencing chronic nipple hardness after breastfeeding, evaluate your baby’s latch, and make sure they have a deep latch.

Their lips should be pursed with lips flanged outward like a fish, and the entire areola, not just the nipple, should be in their mouth.

If you have access to a lactation consultant, have them evaluate your baby’s latch. They can help diagnose any problems you are having and give you the steps to correct them. 

If you are pumping and experiencing nipple hardness, make sure you are using the right size flange. A flange that is too big often causes nipple hardness. La Leche League has excellent information about flange fitting.  

Vasospasm Nipple

A vasospasm is what happens when the blood vessels that supply the nipple contract and reduce the blood flow to the nipple.

This can cause the nipples to look pale in color and often causes intense pain that can be worse when exposed to the cold. When the blood returns, the nipple may look darker than usual. 

Vasospasm Breastfeeding Symptoms

Breastfeeding women who experience vasospasms often report a sore nipple and even a burning or stabbing sensation. This sensation may also be felt deep in the breast tissue around the nipple.

The nipple may remain hard for an extended period of time, and the pain can be felt at any time, even between feedings. 

Vasospasm Breastfeeding Treatment

If you experience vasospasm as a breastfeeding mother, it is likely due to an improper latch. You can learn more about correctly latching your little one from a lactation consultant.

It might also help to avoid cold environments while breastfeeding and to use dry heat, such as a breast warmer (find them here) or heat pack, on your chest after feeding. 

Sore Nipples While Breastfeeding

Mild sensitivity or soreness is common for the first week or two of breastfeeding, but then it should go away. If you are experiencing extreme or extended nipple soreness, something isn’t right. 

Possible Causes

If latching is painful or your nipples and/or areola feel bruised, it’s likely related to an improper latch or ineffective sucking. This could also cause nipples to become red, raw, blistered, or cracked. 

When nipples get red, burn, or feel very sore after pain-free breastfeeding, it may be due to an allergic reaction or yeast infection, such as thrush.

Thrush can transfer to the mother’s nipples and cause them to become red, inflamed, sore, and itchy. 

How To Treat Sore Nipples

Treatment recommendations include:

  • Keeping your nipples hydrated with coconut oil, nipple creams, or your own breast milk. 
  • Wear loose-fitting bra and clothes. A breast shield is also helpful. 
  • Soak nipples in Epsom salts and warm water. 
  • Thrush is treated with an antibiotic from your doctor. 

How To Prevent Sore Nipples When Breastfeeding

To prevent sore nipples, aim for a deep latch. Working with a lactation consultant in the early days of breastfeeding can be tremendously helpful until you learn the process for getting a proper latch.

When To Be Concerned

If your nipples do not heal after proper latching, the discomfort worsens, or they begin to peel, crack, or bleed excessively, please see a lactation consultant or your doctor! 

A mother holding her breast in discomfort with her baby on her lap.

Breastfeeding Hurts Even With Good Latch

Breastfeeding can be extremely frustrating, especially when you feel like you are doing everything right, but it still hurts!

If you are sure you have a good latch and you feel like your nipples should be “toughened up” by now, take these steps to try and alleviate the pain: 

  • Rule out bacterial growth and thrush.
  • Give your nipples time to heal, and pump in the meantime. Try nursing again when your nipples have recovered.  
  • Treat your nipples after every feeding session with warm compresses and oil, and wear a breast shield
  • Spend time without a nursing bra.

Proper Latch for Breastfeeding

Your baby’s latch can make or break your breastfeeding experience. A bad latch can cause a series of problems while a proper latch can make it a beautiful and pleasant bonding experience. 

If your baby has a proper latch, his/her lips will be pursed like a fish, his/her chin should be on your breast, and the entire areola of your breast will be in his/her mouth. Here are a few tips to get there: 

  • Flatten your breast as if feeding your baby a sandwich. This will help you squeeze the entire breast.
  • Hold the breast (the ENTIRE breast, not just the areola) with your thumb on top and the other fingers underneath in a C shape. 
  • Point the nipple toward his nose. This will ensure proper placement of the nipple toward the roof of the mouth. 

Related Questions: 

Does Breastfeeding Change Your Nipples Permanently?

Breastfeeding certainly takes its toll on your nipples. The things we do as mothers, right? Don’t worry too much though.

You can usually expect your nipples to return to their original size and color once you are done breastfeeding.

Does Breastfeeding Cause Saggy Breasts?

This is the dreaded question! A woman’s breasts undergo a lot of changes during pregnancy and postpartum.

While breastfeeding often gets most of the blame for saggy breasts, research shows that pregnancy is more likely the culprit.

Other factors such as genetics, skin elasticity, and weight fluctuations also have a role in causing breasts to be less perky postpartum. There are, however, some steps you can take to combat the issue.

Closing Thoughts 

Breastfeeding is a huge accomplishment and can be a beautiful journey for you and your little one. It shouldn’t be painful.

If it is, there are plenty of resources available to help you make it the comfortable and enjoyable journey that it should be.