If you stimulate your nipples with your fingers and they refuse to stand out, you likely have inverted nipples. Your nipples may seem to stimulate slightly but not enough to give your baby a good nub to latch onto, or you may have flat nipples that are entirely unresponsive. This may seem worrisome if you’re planning to breastfeed, but there’s no reason to panic.
With the right techniques and perhaps some tools of the trade, you can successfully breastfeed despite the flat or inverted position of your nipples. The biggest concern is that your baby won’t receive an adequate supply of milk because he or she will struggle to latch on fully. While this is something that you will want to watch just like all moms, rest assured that many women breastfeed successfully with flat or inverted nipples. It just might take a little more strategy, and that’s what this guide will help you learn.
Identify the Real Problem
While you may focus on the shape of your nipple or get frustrated that it won’t stand out like a nipple naturally should, the design of your nipple isn’t the real problem. The issue is that your baby won’t receive as much assistance as other babies receive, so it may take him or her a little more time to learn how to latch properly.
Nipples that aren’t inverted naturally protrude when stimulated by a baby’s tongue, lips, and saliva. Inverted nipples may try do the same, but the protrusion isn’t as substantial. This means less support for your baby as he or she learns to breastfeed, so you may need to provide that help while patiently waiting for your baby to learn how to feed despite the inversion.
How do you help your baby learn to latch properly despite your less-supportive nipples? The La Leche League suggests that you stimulate your breasts and potentially express a small amount of milk right before your baby tries to latch. This will achieve the maximum amount of protrusion from your nipples, making it easier for your baby to get a strong hold on your breast.
There are several ways that you may stimulate your breasts:
- Express a small amount of milk with a breast pump. Be careful because you don’t want to express too much and run low as your baby feeds. You can save the breastmilk and feed it to your baby with a small cup or syringe at another time.
- Rub your nipple between your fingers. It may also help to run your fingers over your areola, pressing down around the nipple gently.
- Wipe a cold, wet towel over your nipples.
Once your breast starts to feel soft and you see your nipple protruding even a little, it’s time to place your baby up to the breast and attempt a feeding. This is where you need to remain patient and calm because you don’t want your baby to pick up on your frustration and quit trying.
Try a variety of breastfeeding positions that allow you to hold our baby close and perhaps feed the nipple into your baby’s mouth. You can use pillows, a baby sling and other props to help adjust your baby until you find the positions that work best for your little one.
More Breast, Stronger Latch
We’ve already covered the fact that a strong latch is what your baby needs to feed efficiently with your inverted nipples, but how do you know when your baby has achieved that latch? One clue is the amount of your breast that your baby has accepted into his or her mouth. Dr. Sears recommends checking to see that only the edges of your areola are visible. This means that your baby has latched to your full nipple and some of the surrounding tissue.
It may help to gently pinch around your areola, pushing your breast tissue forward and the nipple out as much as possible. Place your baby’s chin on the edge of your areola, guiding your breast into the baby’s mouth. This can help feed a larger amount of breast into your baby’s mouth, teaching him or her to get a good hold on the breast.
What About Nipple Shields or Shells?
Nipple shields are made from thin sheets of silicone and are designed to fit directly over your nipple. They give your baby a more prominent nipple that is easier to latch onto, and your milk will flow through the shield into your baby’s mouth. This can help if you’re concerned that your baby isn’t getting enough milk to thrive, but you don’t want your little one to become dependent on the shield and eventually want to wean from it.
So why not just use it forever? Why do you want to wean from the nipple shield? While some moms have been able to use them longer-term, that is NOT recommended by doctors or lactation consultants at this time. If they are working for you, GREAT! We don’t want to stress mamas into weaning from them too before they are ready. However, according to studies they have been shown to be “problematic and may cause more problems such as lack of effective milk transfer, sore nipples, and loss of milk supply.” (McKechnie, 2010) Who wants THAT? So we suggest you continue working on shield-free latching while using this as a tool as needed until you and baby are ready.
You may also consider a nipple shell. This is a more substantial cover that goes over your breast when you’re not breastfeeding. The main purpose is to keep your nipples covered inside your bra, allowing the cup to collect any leaked milk while preventing your tender nipple from rubbing against your bra or shirt. Some shells are designed specifically for inverted nipples like these from Medela. Many women also find that a shell helps pull out the nipple to maximize extension.
You may want to start wearing a nipple shell for a part of the day during the last week or so of your pregnancy. This may start stimulating and pulling out your nipple, coaxing it out of its sleepy state in preparation of breastfeeding. Some women even start pumping small amounts of milk late in pregnancy for the same reason.
Are Inverted Nipples Always a Problem?
The answer here is an enthusiastic NO! Many women with inverted or even flat nipples find that the learning curve is surprisingly short for their babies. If your baby takes to the breast naturally and quickly learns to work with the natural design of your nipple, then you may have no problem.
If your little one seems to struggle, you may need to work with a lactation consultant. It’s a good idea to request this while in the hospital if you know that your nipples are inverted. The consultant will teach you valuable techniques that may get your baby feeding like a champ in little time.
- Breastfeeding Problems and Challenging Situations and Solutions
- Does My Baby Have a Good Latch? How to Know
- Using a Nipple Shield – How, When And Which Ones Are Best