Inverted or Flat Nipples
Prepared by Mary Marine
The size and shape of nipples and breasts vary from person to person and can change during the breastfeeding journey. It is common for nipples to gradually change shape, become more elastic and protrude more during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. When babies suck at the breast, they stretch the nipple and surrounding breast tissue into their mouth. The more elastic or stretchy the nipple, the easier it will be for your baby to latch. However, even if the nipples don’t protrude more during pregnancy, you can still breastfeed. These variations often have very little to do with the baby’s ability to breastfeed, because baby latches to the nipple and surrounding breast tissue.
If you have inverted or flat nipples, your baby may need more time and patience to breastfeed. A flat nipple is smooth next to the breast tissue. Inverted nipples withdraw below the surface of the nipple. If you think your nipple may be inverted, try placing your thumb and finger on opposite sides of the areola (the darker area of skin surrounding the nipple) and squeezing gently inwards. Sometimes nipples may be partly inverted, looking dimpled or folded. Severely inverted nipples retract deeply when compressed or stimulated. A nipple that stands out when stimulated is not inverted.
After your baby is born, your nipples may appear flatter than usual but babies often lick the nipple to stimulate it before latching on. Your nipples may also appear flatter if your breasts are very full or engorged.
A deep latch and comfortable position helps your baby latch and breastfeed effectively. In the beginning, the following techniques may help you initiate breastfeeding:
- Immediately after birth, place your baby in skin-to-skin contact on your chest. Continue to use skin to skin during early breastfeeding to soothe your baby and to ease frustrations during breastfeeding. Ideally, the breastfeeding dyad is kept together until both are discharged.
- Being with your baby helps you to recognize your infant’s hunger cues.
- Before breastfeeding, express several drops of milk, so the milk is immediately available when your baby latches.
- You may massage your breast while breastfeeding to assist your baby in receiving milk.
To help evert the nipple:
- Pull back on breast tissue so nipple will protrude more.
- Breastfeed in a laidback or side-lying position especially if you have large breasts.
- Breast engorgement can contribute to the nipple being less protruded. Massage the nipple and areolar area so milk will move back into the breast or will leak out, softening the areola and everting the nipple. Also try reverse nipple softening. Reverse pressure softening involves using gentle finger pressure around the base of the nipple to temporarily move some of the swelling slightly backward and upward into the breast.
- Roll the nipple between the thumb and index finger and immediately afterwards touch the nipple with a moist cold cloth. Avoid making the nipple too cold because it can result in the nipple being numb, and inhibit let down.
- Use nipple and breast support to help protrude the nipple. Use both hands on each side of breast to make a “sandwich”, to squeeze nipple and areola. Use hands to press in on breast like the way you hold a big sandwich to put in the mouth.
- Use a breast pump for several minutes to draw out the nipple. The suction from a pump will often cause the nipple to protrude more.
- If you have had assistance with latch and tried the tips in this article and your nipples are still sore, consider trying a nipple shield. The nipple shield is a thin silicone devise that goes on top of your nipple and areola while breastfeeding. It looks like a brimmed hat. The nipple shield is a commercially made product. A nipple shield can be used temporarily to help establish breastfeeding or in some cases to help ensure that breastfeeding continues. A shield provides a firm stimulus at the roof of a baby’s mouth where the soft and hard palate meet. This may help your baby suckle more effectively.
- Commercial products that are intended to assist in drawing out inverted nipples such as breast shells or everters are best used only with the guidance of a trained lactation consultant.
If Nipple Soreness Occurs
- You may experience nipple soreness for about the first two weeks of nursing while your flat or inverted nipple is gradually drawn out by baby’s suckling. This discomfort is generally the result of adhesions or skin binding to underlying breast tissue. If the soreness is severe, or continues past the initial two weeks, consult your health professional.
- If your nipple retracts after feedings, that skin may remain moist, leading to chapping of the skin. After feeding, pat your nipples dry and apply a moisturizer safe for breastfeeding. You may also want to wear breast shells or other devices to keep your nipple out between feedings so the skin can dry.
When Nipple Soreness is Prolonged
Rarely, sore nipples may persist for a longer period because instead of stretching, the adhesions remain tight. This can create a stress point which may lead to cracks or blisters.
- If one breast is easier for your baby to grasp and he nurses well from that breast, you can continue to feed on that side. You can pump the breast with the deeply inverted nipple until the adhesions loosen and the nipple is drawn out. Your baby will get all the milk he needs from one breast if allowed unlimited and unrestricted time at the breast.
- If both nipples are deeply inverted, you can pump both breasts simultaneously for 15-20 minutes 8 or more times in 24 hours. You can feed your baby with an alternative feeding device until she is able to latch on effectively and comfortably.
- How long you will need to pump in order to draw out your nipples depends upon the strength of the adhesions and the degree of inversion. One pumping may be enough to completely draw out the nipple. If the nipple continues to deeply invert, you may need to continue pumping. When your nipple stays out after pumping, you can resume breastfeeding immediately.
- Once your nipple can be drawn into the baby’s mouth correctly and the baby can breastfeed effectively, you should be able to discontinue pumping and breastfeed without discomfort.
- On rare occasions you may continue to feel some discomfort even after your nipple has been drawn out. This could be due to the correction to the nipple.
- The nipple may invert again as your baby pauses during a feeding. In this case, you may need to stop breastfeeding and pump again for a few minutes before putting baby back to the breast.
- As a temporary transition to exclusive breastfeeding, breast compressions or the use of a nursing supplementer might help to encourage continuous sucking and swallowing so that the nipple won’t be as likely to invert during feeding.
If you do encounter challenges during your breastfeeding journey, support from a La Leche League Leader and other participants in Group meetings may help you to overcome the challenges. (Find a Leader or meeting.)
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(Revised February 2022)