One of the most important aspects for successful breastfeeding is a correct latch. The nipple must be drawn into the baby's mouth so that the baby's jaw compresses the areola. If the baby's gums compress the nipple instead, a host of breastfeeding complications can occur, including the baby not getting enough milk and losing weight. If you notice nipple compression marks when you remove your baby from your breast, you should reevaluate your breastfeeding technique.
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The nipple of the breast provides the exit for your milk and has multiple openings for the milk to come through. However, manipulation of the nipple does not cause the milk to be released. Tiny milk sacs are present underneath the areola, or the dark area of your breast. These sacs must be compressed by the baby's jaw and tongue, and they work together to draw the milk out of the sacs through the nipple.
When your baby is latched on, most of the areola should be in his mouth. If he is latched on to the nipple and his gums are compressing your nipple, you may experience pain and soreness. In addition, he will not be able to extract milk if he is latched onto the tip of the nipple. A correctly latched baby will have a wide mouth and his lips will flare out on the areola, similar to "fish lips."
While some women experience a short episode of discomfort when first latching their babies on, persistent nipple pain while breastfeeding is a symptom that your nipple is being compressed. Nipple compression can trigger trauma and result in scabbed or bleeding nipples, infection and blisters. If you notice nipple compression in the form of a misshapen nipple after breastfeeding, or if you notice nipple damage, seek assistance to help you improve your latch.
Although breastfeeding is natural and ideal for you and your baby, both of you need to learn and practice to perfect breastfeeding. Consider taking a breastfeeding class during your pregnancy to learn more about breastfeeding techniques and positions. Ask for hands-on help in the hospital from your nurse. Seek care with a board certified lactation consultant if you notice persistent nipple pain or trauma. Consider using lanolin or simply expressing breastmilk onto sore nipples to aid healing.