Cracked Nipples, Plugged Ducts
This condition is pretty unsightly, "and one of the most painful things I've ever experienced in my life," says Heather Schuman, of Seattle.
"The primary cause of cracked nipples is an improper latch," says Sharon Mass, MD, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' representative to the U.S. breastfeeding committee.
To soothe sore nipples, she recommends using a pure lanolin-based breast cream that's safe for nursing babies, as well as soaking your nipples in clean, warm water.
To help adjust your baby's latch, you'll need to schedule a visit with a lactation consultant. She'll watch your baby feed and help you reposition her or give you exercises to do with her. "Cracked or bleeding nipples can heal remarkably fast once the latch is adjusted," says Costello.
If you're unable to breastfeed because of painful nipples, she advises using a breast pump until they're sufficiently healed.
Plugged Milk Ducts
Milk ducts are pipelines in your breasts that deliver milk to your nipples. Like all "plumbing," they can develop clogs, resulting in plugged ducts.
Two months after the birth of her son, Erin McKenna, of New York City, developed one of these clogs. "It happened in all different areas of the breast but most frequently in the milk ducts closest to my underarm," she says. Happily, Mother Nature has supplied us with ducts galore, so a few plugged ones won't interfere with milk production, but they are annoying and painful.
"Plugged ducts are a localized blockage of milk in the breast and feel like painful knots," says Dr. Mass. They can be caused by ineffective drainage of the breast, a blocked nipple pore, or even restrictive bras. She advises treating the area with moist, hot compresses. Gentle massage before and during feedings can also help, as can choosing a softer, looser bra without an underwire. However you decide to treat your duct trouble, be sure to keep nursing, as that will help keep your milk flowing freely.