Breastfeeding is not always easy especially for new mothers. Breastfeeding problems are often associated with inability to get a deeper latch when breastfeeding. This may occur as a result of several reasons. The most common reasons are incorrect breastfeeding positions and flat or inverted nipples.
Nipples vary in size and shape. Some moms have nipples that are on the same level with the areola, which are known as flat nipples. Others have nipples that retract inwards rather than outwards, which are commonly known as inverted nipples or invaginated nipples.
Flat and inverted nipples do not pose any health concern; hence no treatment is required. However, some new moms with such nipples may have a hard time getting their babies to have a deeper latch when breastfeeding since they may experience soreness and pain. Proper breastfeeding positions and techniques can help the baby to latch properly on the areola rather than the nipple and prevent the soreness and pain.
How common are inverted nipples?
Inverted nipples are actually quite common and occur in both women and men.
Studies have shown that in every ten women, one has inverted nipples. This means that a decent number of women around you have inverted nipples although they may shy away from talking about it.
Causes of inverted nipples
Women should not shy away or feel embarrassed when talking about inverted nipples because they are usually caused by factors beyond their control. These include genes, trauma, infection, sudden and excessive weight loss among others.
Genes: The most common cause is genes. Majority of people with inverted nipples are actually born with them. The tissue around the nipple is just pulled naturally inside the breast; thus, making the nipples inverted. This can be reversed through manual stimulation but there are some rare cases where the nipple will remain inverted permanently since it is a congenital defect.
Infection: An infection such as periductal mastitis affects the milk ducts and causes inflammation and scarring of the tissue around the nipple, which is likely to result in nipple inversion.
Trauma to the breast: Trauma to the breast tissue may occur following an injury after nipple piercing or breast surgery. This may result in scarring of the nipple and cause it to retract inwards.
Stopping to breastfeed: Some women have also reported developing inverted nipples after they stop breastfeeding. This is possible because after stopping to breastfeed, the milk ducts constrict. This causes the tissue around the nipple to contract thereby pulling the nipple inwards.
How do I know I have inverted nipples?
To know whether you have inverted nipples, you can perform a simple nipple pinch test to see how your nipple responds when pinched. All you have to do is pinch the nipple tissue around the areola using your thumb and index finger. If the nipple pulls inwards, then it is inverted since a normal nipple should protrude.
Getting a deeper latch when breastfeeding with inverted nipples
The correct breastfeeding position
A major challenge for moms with inverted nipples is knowing the correct breastfeeding position that will help their baby to latch on well.
Incorrect breastfeeding position is one of the main reasons why most nursing moms get sore nipples when breastfeeding.
Clearly, majority of new moms do not understand that they are supposed to Breast-Feed and not Nipple-Feed. In breastfeeding, the baby latches on to the areola but in Nipple feeding, the baby latches on the nipple. This makes the nipple very sore and cracks after a few feeds thereby causing a lot of pain.
The best way to overcome this is through proper latching which can only be achieved through the correct breastfeeding position. Watch the video below for a step by step guide on how to get a deeper latch when breastfeeding by holding the baby in the correct position.
Deep latch breastfeeding video
The best solution for inverted nipples
A mother with inverted or flat nipples may need some form of assistance in order to draw out the nipple and enable the baby to latch on well when feeding. These techniques may include;
- Using nipple shields
- The Hoffman technique
- Using a breast pump
- Nipple enhancer suction
- Nipple stimulation
Using Nipple shields for flat and inverted nipples
Nipple shields are also known as breast shells and made of either plastic or silicone. They are made for babies who are unable to latch on well due to reasons such as flat or inverted nipples, tongue tie, lip tie, and receded chin among others.
Nursing moms who have cracked or sore nipples can also use nipple shields while breastfeeding to give the nipples time to heal.
How do nipple shields work?
When the nipple shield is placed over breast, it applies pressure on the tissue around the nipple thereby forcing the inverted or flat nipple to protrude into the shield nipple.
The shields have holes at the tip through which the milk passes when the baby latches on and starts suckling.
The stimulation provided by the baby as he or she continues to breastfeed enables the inverted nipples to elongate thereby making it easier for baby to latch without the need of a shield.
How to wean baby off nipple shield
Nipple shields are meant to be a temporary solution and should only be used under the instructions of a lactation consultant.
Once a baby gets used to breastfeeding using nipple shields, it could be very difficult wean them off.