Sore Nipples Part 1: Finding Relief with Peppermint
Sore nipples often occur when breastfeeding begins. Particularly when baby has trouble latching on properly, the delicate nipple and areola tissue can get irritated, inflamed and if left untreated, it can crack, leading to bleeding and potentially infection. Fortunately, you don’t have to let it get that far as there are many herbs and natural remedies that are easily available and effective.
When I began breastfeeding my son, I experienced pain in the first few weeks. It was particularly painful when he latched on to the nipple only (as opposed to the areola). So, while trying out some natural remedies, also work towards a proper latch. Here is a list of articles from La Leche League can help with that.
There are topical remedies that can ease the pain of sore nipples and help them to heal. The nipples will eventually “toughen up”. Any tissue that is getting constant pressure and friction will be sore and develop a wound at first, then it rebuilds with skin cells that are able to withstand the sensation. Coupled with baby’s growing experience with a proper latch, the sore nipples will stop being sore.
So, onto remedies:
Both peppermint water and peppermint gel are effective for greatly preventing nipple and areola damage and pain. I’ve used my homemade peppermint gel (recipe and infographic below) and can tell you, it is quite numbing! The wonderful thing is that the numbing effects last about 2-3 hours, the typical time between nursing sessions in the beginning (though my son was more frequent than that :). Just be sure to rinse the gel off with plain water before the next nursing session as this is not meant to go into baby’s mouth.
Peppermint water was found to be more effective than expressed breast milk in one study and peppermint gel more effective than lanolin in another study. Using peppermint water (Mentha x piperita) to prevent and treat sore nipples is a folk medicine remedy of Azarbayejan in the North West of Iran.
Peppermint essential oil is strong, so please be very cautious in its use. It must be properly diluted or it can cause irritation and damage the skin.
Benefits of Using Peppermint to Treat Sore Nipples:
1. Greatly decreases the likelihood of nipple and areola cracks, with more effectiveness than expressed breast milk or lanolin.
2. Reduces chances of having a cracked nipple at all, meaning that using peppermint will help to make breastfeeding a smooth, painless process.
3. Decreases the pain that can happen with breastfeeding, and less pain increases the chances that you will choose to continue to nurse! I remember a few days in the beginning of nursing where I was literally tearing up during a session. It stopped hurting abruptly, thankfully I was treating my nipples with balms and what not, so they healed up quickly. Peppermint actually acts as a pain-reliever.
Peppermint works for sore nipples because of its:
-Ability to increase tissue flexibility, making it resistant to cracks
-Calming and anti-inflammatory properties
-Has antibacterial activity
Peppermint has been used externally as a skin anesthetic, for healing burns and wounds, and for soothing itching and inflammation.
How to Make and Use Peppermint Water and Peppermint Gel
Distilled water 1 ounce
Peppermint essential oil 8 drops
This recipe can be increased, just be sure to keep the proportion between water and peppermint oil. Store the peppermint water in the refrigerator.
Soak a cloth in the peppermint water and apply to the nipple and areola. Apply after a nursing session only and rinse off with plain water before the next nursing session. Continue for the first month of breastfeeding or until nipples are no longer sore.
Mix the glycerin and aloe together, then add the peppermint essential oil. Cap and shake.
Apply after a nursing session only and rinse off with plain water before the next nursing session. Continue for the first month of breastfeeding or until nipples are no longer sore. All of the ingredients for the peppermint gel for sore nipples can be found at Mountain Rose Herbs.
Click Here to Read Part 2 about more remedies for sore nipples.
Effect of peppermint water on prevention of nipple cracks in lactating primiparous women: a randomized controlled trial. Melli, Rashidi, Delazar, et al. International Breastfeeding Journal 2007, 2:7.
A randomized trial of peppermint gel, lanolin ointment, and placebo gel to prevent nipple crack in primiparous breastfeeding women. Melli, Rashidi, Nokhoodchi, et al. Med Sci Monit, 2007; 13 (9).
Peppermint (bottom) by Sten Porse (Self-published work by Sten Porse), via Wikimedia Commons