I suffered from cracked, bleeding, and excruciatingly sore nipples for the first two months of breastfeeding my first son (although for most women, the pain will be milder and will last just a few weeks).
After hearing great things about lactation consultants, I paid a ridiculous Australian woman $250 to visit us and observe Felix while he was breastfeeding. Apparently, nothing was wrong with his “latch,” and the Aussie seemed confused as she doled out her standard advice in infuriating, often nonsensical, smiles: “Breastfeeding is like a dance, and the breast pump is just an extra partner.” “Hold the baby’s head like a steering wheel as you guide it onto your breast.” Huh? Try holding your baby’s head like a steering wheel and let me know how it goes. I couldn’t quote get the ten-and-two position down.
I might have laughed, had I not already been crying from the burn of my soft cotton shirt touching my chest.
During this time, I’d burst into tears whenever my baby began fussing from hunger, and my husband, Daylon, called the pediatrician in a panic after Felix spit up bits of blood (turns out it was from the lesions on my nipples). I even allowed Daylon to feed my precious newborn a bottle of Enfamil one morning around week 5, while I lay in bed and sobbed from the guilt…and from the flannel sheets tearing at my nipples. (If you do resort to formula, don’t go for Enfamil like I did. Instead, check out this Safe Infant Formula Guide for some better options.)
The Light At the End of the Nipple…I Mean Tunnel
Even the most gruesome of breastfeeding scenarios will eventually improve (I did not, in the end, lose the entire tip of my left nipple, despite my conviction that it was detaching). I know moms who have been saved by visits from La Leche League reps or lactation consultants.
For me, nothing really worked, except of course the passing of fifty or sixty days spent topless, watching TLC’s “A Baby Story,” and taking solace in the fact that at least I wasn’t in labor anymore. And nipple creams helped soothe the pain between nursing sessions. (By the way, the time between said sessions usually did not exceed 45 minutes. Felix was a nursing fiend.)
If your own nipple pain is less intense than mine was (as in, there is no fear of losing a nipple and only limited scabbing), creams may offer significant relief during those rough few weeks of breastfeeding.
Oh, it’s worth noting that with my second son, Wolfie, the pain never escalated beyond a mild pinch, and nipple cream definitely brought relief.
Nipple Cream: Your Baby’s First Food!
Since your baby will presumably be ingesting small amounts of whatever you smear on your nipples, it’s critical that all ingredients are safe. Many people swear by lanolin, and I know this was what my mom and her friends all used in the ’70s and ’80s. Yet a lot of products now boast that they are “lanolin free.” So what’s the deal?
The Deal with Lanolin
Lanolin is the greasy discharge from a sheep’s sabeceous glands, and is used in host of cosmetics, from lip balms to breastfeeding creams. Although highly effective in soothing and healing chapped skin, lanolin contains a heavy load of pesticides (the wool is soaked in chemicals to remove parasites before the lanolin is scoured out of it), and at the moment there are no truly organic options out there.
These days, thankfully, lanolin-free nipple creams are easily found.
The Good Stuff
Sierra Sage Comfort Cream contains 100% organic, non-GMO ingredients, including beeswax, chamomile flowers, and extra virgin olive oil. This is now my go-to gift for nursing friends, and one of our best sellers. You can buy Sierra Sage Comfort Cream from Gimme the Good Stuff’s online store.
Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter contains ingredients safe for baby–such as organic olive oil and mango butter. This cream brought me a bit of relief when I was nursing Felix (I hadn’t yet discovered Sierra Sage), and can be found in lots of brick-and-mortar retailers and on Amazon.
Motherlove Nipple Cream’s organic ingredients include marshmallow root and calendula, and is scored a zero-hazard product by Skin Deep. You can buy Motherlove on Amazon.
The Bad Stuff
Maternity Solutions for Painful Breasts Cream contains fragrance, parabens, and triethanolamine, none of which I would want my baby to ingest, even if it cured my mangled nipples. (Well, maybe at the height of my misery while nursing Felix I would have made my peace with it, considering I justified Enfamil).
Udderly Smooth Udder Cream is icky for all the same reasons, and also contains peg-2 stearate, a suspected environmental toxin.
The Sneaky Stuff
The two most popular breastfeeding creams are the lanolin varieties produced by Lansinoh and Medela, and each is rated only a 1 out of 10 on Skin Deep. However, given the potential risks of lanolin (see above), I avoid both brands. Of the two, Lansinoh seems safer: according to their website, Lansinoh HPA Lanolin “has been refined…to remove all allergenic components…and to bring to the lowest level possible any environmental impurities (including pesticide residues).” Medela does not provide such information.
Mama Mio Keep Calm Nipple Balm also contains lanolin.
Despite its high price, Mustela Nursing Comfort Balm is not the Good Stuff, with PEG chemicals and other synthetic ingredients in its formula.