11 Considerations Before You Use Nipple Cream

Listen to the podcast, “Sore nipples, creams, ointments: A Quick Guide for Nursing Moms”

It’s common for breastfeeding mothers to experience sore nipples in the early days after birth. In most cases, the new mothers are experiencing “new baby” soreness. What’s a mother to do? Well, before you reach for a nipple cream or ointment, stop.

Consider: It might be better for you to massage a few drops of your milk into your nipples, and seek help for positioning and latch before you buy any commercial products. Whether any creams or ointments actually help with sore nipples is debatable. Before you try them, consider the following:

Creams and ointments will not cure poor latch.

Cracked or otherwise traumatized nipple skin signals poor positioning and latch. Get an experienced professional to take a look and help you out, before your nipples start to feel so painful you consider giving up. Breastfeeding shouldn’t—and doesn’t have to—be like that.

“Hypoallergenic” are not allergy-free.

Remember, hypoallergenic means that a product has been manufactured in a way that reduces the possibility of an allergic response. It doesn’t mean it will completely eliminate allergies, and allergic reactions are still a serious possibility.

In a roomful of experienced lactation consultants preparing for their 10-, 20-, or 30-year IBLCE exam, at least one or two experienced IBCLCs—every city, every year—tell me they have seen an allergic reaction on the nipples after the lanolin has been used. I’m not surprised.

Let me be quick to say: The condition they report may or may not have been formally diagnosed as such. Even if it is, we can’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that it’s a cause-and-effect relationship.

But personally? If you have an allergy to wool, I encourage you to stay away from lanolin-based creams. 

Use any product sparingly.

Pharmacist Wendy Jones, PhD, cautions that any of these products should be used sparingly. If you need to wipe or wash off excess cream before the next feeding, you probably applied too much. More product isn’t necessarily more beneficial, and it might even exacerbate a problem. On our recent show together, Wendy talked about the difference between “supple” and “soggy.”

Remember, too, that washing nipples is likely to cause more dryness, and consequently, more skin damage.

Look for proof of effectiveness.

Some studies claim that some of the available creams, oils, ointments, or balms prevent or cure sore nipples. Across the board, they seem to be small studies, with questionable designs. I find these studies unconvincing, and my observations when caring for many breastfeeding mothers over the years leaves me highly skeptical. Wendy Jones, PhD concurs.

Here’s another thing: Many mothers tell me they’ve been instructed to put lanolin cream on the inside of the flange while pumping. I’m unaware of any evidence to support that recommendation. However, I’m aware of anecdotal reports that suggest that lanolin cream isn’t good for the pump.

Avoid those that contain alcohol.

Here in the US, creams and lotions often contain alcohol. Alcohol has antibacterial properties. But it removes not only “bad” bacteria, but also the “friendly” bacteria, which could set you up for a yeast infection. 

It also has a drying effect on the skin, leaving you at greater risk for cracked skin and, again, infection. 

Avoid those that taste or smell “funny.”

Babies are much more sensitive to tastes and smells than the rest of us. Nursing babies instinctively seek the smell of their mother’s milk, which a study by Varendi and Porter (2001) show helps to guide them to their mother’s breast. (There are many studies on this topic!)

If the smell of the cream or ointment overpowers that of your milk, your baby may feel frustrated and pull away from the nipple. And, if the cream or ointment has a peculiar taste, the baby will be turned off! (Wouldn’t you be?) 

Some may include “surprise” ingredients.

If you’re considering a cream to put on your nipple, one that may be ingested by your baby, be sure to review the ingredients. Are there preservatives? Gluten? Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)? Parabens (which could cause an allergic reaction)? Does it contain animal products or use animal testing? (Many people don’t realize that lanolin products are derived from sheep’s wool.) Read before you buy, so you really know what you’re getting.

Avoid products that don’t go on smoothly.

If the product doesn’t glide onto your nipples, it is likely that you will be tugging on your nipple skin when you apply it. 

Thicker, stickier creams—including lanolin creams don’t glide on well. They can be difficult to get out of the tube or tub, and to get off your hands. They can also leave greasy stains on your clothing.

Be sure the lid is kept on fluid products between uses.

Okay, thicker-textured products can be difficult to get out, but those with a lighter texture can make create a leaky mess. 

And beware of contamination issues, if you are somehow using the same product on the baby’s butt

Keep it simple.

It’s only in the last half-century or so that special creams for sore nipples
have been developed.

Rather than reach for something from the pharmaceutical aisle, why not reach for something safe and available in your kitchen cupboard—olive oil. You can apply it to cracked nipples, and even on the inside the flange while pumping. It has been used to dress wounds for centuries. It glides on smoothly, and research has shown that it has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, and poses no threat to nursing babies. (And I suggest using olive oil on the inside of the flange.)

Olive oil readily sinks into the skin, and there’s no need to wipe it off prior to breastfeeding. While it’s possible to have an allergy to anything, including olive oil, I’ve never met anyone who did.

Petroleum jelly (the popular brand here is Vaseline) can also be highly effective in healing cracked nipples. Wow! It’s effective, simple, cheap, and has multiple uses! (I learned this from Wendy Jones, too! There’s a wealth of information on her website.)

Beware of essential oils.

To be clear, I like essential oils, and use them myself. However, as we learned from my
interview with expert aromatherapist Lea Harris, there are a number of essential oils that should be avoided while breastfeeding, so be careful. 

I hope you’ll consider these factors before using any nipple cream, ointment, butter, or balm. There are dozens of products to choose from which may be less objectionable and more effective than the popularly-known ones—including your own milk! And, very often, the first strategy should be getting professional help to achieve optimal positioning and latch. 

Have you used a nipple ointment or cream? What was your experience?
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6 Reasons It May Be Time to Go Pro with a Career in Lactation

Listen to the podcast, “Know When to Go Pro: Is a Lactation Career in Your Future?”

Did you enjoy breastfeeding your child? Are you passionate about the importance of breastfeeding? Has it been a life-changing event for you? Do you talk breastfeeding with new moms you meet? When one of your friends (and possibly even your friends’ friends!) have questions about breastfeeding, are you the one they come to for help?

Whether you’re currently breastfeeding your child, or you weaned him several years ago, here are 6 reasons it may be time for you to go pro:

It brings in some income.

I can’t think of anyone who has gotten rich because of their expertise in breastfeeding and lactation. Yet, I believe it’s possible! Consider others who make a comfortable salary by being a bingo manager, winemaker, horse exerciser, elevator inspector, or enterostomal therapist. You could do the same!

You can work anywhere on the globe.

Breastfeeding mothers and babies are everywhere! Mothers will need your help in the pediatric clinic in Missouri, the hospital in Hawaii, the village clinic in Ghana. It doesn’t matter wherever you land.

Volunteer opportunities abound.

Every day accountants, teachers, architects and others who are qualified for a paid position offer their services as a volunteer. There’s a great satisfaction in giving your high level of expertise to those who may need it most, but cannot afford it. As a lactation pro, you could do the same!

It’s hard to imagine any greater satisfaction than engaging in volunteer work for breastfeeding mothers and infants in your community.

You can work in multiple settings.

Do you like change? If you find that every now and then you like the freshness of new settings and different work, maybe becoming a lactation pro is the way to go. You can work in a hospital, a public clinic, a private clinic, a private physician’s office, a milk bank … you could even teach classes for an organization, or own your own consulting practice!

You can also integrate your lactation work into your existing work, whether it be as a doula, a childbirth educator, or something else. Amber Thomas spoke on my show about how she did that. She wanted to create packages to give clients, and this add-on was perfect for increasing her income and at the same time, meeting her clients’ needs.

You can support moms in life-changing ways.

About thirty years ago, I helped a mother in my care to get her few-hours’-old baby to breastfeed. This was one of many, many mothers I have cared for over the years, and I don’t remember anything especially remarkable about what she needed or the help I provided.

So imagine my surprise and joy when I received a call from the “baby”, now a 30-year-old mother of a newborn. When she experienced some difficulties, her mother told her – “Call Marie!”

I don’t doubt for a second that when you “go pro” in doing this work you love, you’ll have similar things happen!

Because you love it.

As the old saying goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Are you on fire with a love of breastfeeding? Are you eager to help mothers and babies in your community, or in the world? Are you eager to help anyone who needs help with breastfeeding?

Take it from me: Your passion will give you an unquenchable thirst to learn more for yourself, reach out more frequently to others, and move more boldly to establish breastfeeding as the societal norm. You’ll do whatever it takes because you’re on fire, and you can’t sit still or keep quiet.

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions I’ve posed, it may well be time to consider going pro!

How do you help breastfeeding mothers you know? Have you ever considered going pro?
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