How Does Nipple Shape Impact Breastfeeding

Find out how nipple shape can impact breastfeeding and common troubleshooting tips.

How Does Nipple Shape Impact Breastfeeding

Nipples come in all shapes, colors, and sizes…small, large, inverted, flat, wide, short, and long there is a lot of variation out there! For the vast majority of parents and babies, nipple shape doesn’t negatively impact breastfeeding or cause any hiccups along the way. For some parents, nipple shape will come into play during their nursing journey. Below is a breakdown of various nipple shapes, which can help if you are encountering issues and troubleshooting for warning signs that may arise. 

The shape of the nipple can impact breastfeeding in several ways, including…..

  1. Difficulty latching: Flat or inverted nipples can make it difficult for the baby to properly attach to the breast and effectively remove milk.
  2. Inefficient milk transfer: If the baby is not able to properly latch on and remove milk, it can lead to inefficient milk transfer and decreased milk production.
  3. Poor weight gain: If the baby is not effectively removing milk from the breast, it can result in poor weight gain.
  4. Reduced breastfeeding duration: Difficulty breastfeeding due to nipple shape can lead to reduced breastfeeding duration, as mothers may switch to bottle feeding to alleviate discomfort or pain.

**It is important to note that every woman and every baby is different, and what works for one parent and baby may not work for another. If you are experiencing difficulty breastfeeding due to the shape of your nipple, it is always best to consult with a lactation consultant (IBCLC) for guidance. Click here, to book with a member of our team. They can help you find the best solutions for your individual situation and ensure that both you and your baby are comfortable and able to effectively breastfeed.

Flat + Inverted nipples

A nipple that is flat or inverted can make it difficult for the baby to properly attach to the breast and effectively remove milk. Some women with flat or inverted nipples may find it helpful to use nipple shields or breast shells to help the nipple protrude, making it easier for the baby to latch on.

Breastfeeding with inverted nipples can be challenging, but it is possible with the right support and techniques. 

Tips for breastfeeding with inverted nipples:

  1. During pregnancy, if you know you have inverted nipples, I recommend using supple cups (check them out, here), for a few hours every day during the last few weeks of pregnancy. Supple cups put gentle suction on the nipple to help draw out of the nipple. Inverted nipples are caused by tethered tissue that pulls the nipple inwards. Over time with the suction of the pump or the infant's mouth, while breastfeeding, the nipple may become more everted. I have worked with moms before who had inverted nipples that completely resolved over the course of their breastfeeding/pumping journey. 
  2. Stimulation before breastfeeding: Gently massage or roll the nipples between your fingers to help them become erect before trying to breastfeed.
  3. Using a nipple everter: a simple tool that can help your nipples temporarily stand up or evert to help you latch your baby. Both the Avent niplette and the Lansinoh nipple everter can be helpful. They work in slightly different ways.
  4. Lansinoh LatchAssist: you can use this prior to latching to help evert the nipple. It can also be used prenatally to practice. 
  5. Avent Niplette: you can add more suction with the niplette. Protip: add a little coconut oil to your nipples prior to trying for comfort.
  6. Use a breast pump: Using a breast pump before breastfeeding can help to draw out the nipple and make it easier for the baby to latch on.
  7. Use a nipple shield: Nipple shields can be used to help the baby latch on by providing a protruding nipple for the baby to attach to. I recommend the Mamivac cherry-shaped nipple shield. You can find it here. Need more help with nipple shields, click here for the blog.
  8. Proper positioning: The laid-back breastfeeding position, also known as the biological nurturing position, is a breastfeeding technique that encourages a relaxed and natural position for both the mother and the baby. In this position, the mother reclines in a comfortable chair or on a bed, with her head and shoulders supported and her back at a slight angle. The baby is placed on the mother's chest, facing the breast, think of draping your baby over your body. Make sure the baby is positioned correctly, with their nose level with the nipple and their mouth open wide, before latching on. (check out our blog to help fix a shallow latch here.) Be sure to snag our latching freebie, here.

Here is a reel to show you how to properly apply a nipple shield.

Tips for breastfeeding with small nipples

Breastfeeding with small nipples can sometimes present challenges, but with the right support and techniques, it can be done successfully. Many parents may have no issue at all, but if you find yourself struggling give some of the following tips a try. 

  1. Proper positioning: I know I may sound like I’m on repeat, but positioning, both for you and baby can make a HUGE difference. One phrase I often say is, “Let the chin land the latch.” What do I mean by that? It is the FIRM PRESSURE of the breast on the baby’s CHIN that triggers them to open wide (gape) and reach DOWN with their tongue and grasp a mouthful of breast. (Catherine Genna Watson, IBCLC “Supporting Sucking Skills in Breastfeeding Infants”)
  2. Use a breast pump: Using a breast pump before breastfeeding can help to draw out the nipple and make it easier for the baby to latch on.
  3. Gently massage the nipples: Gently massaging the nipples can help the nipple be more erect before breastfeeding and can help to stimulate the flow of milk and make it easier for the baby to latch on.
  4. Try reverse pressure softening: Taking the pads of your fingers PUSH back and hold 15-30. Slowly moving your fingers around the entire areola. This should make the area SOFTER and latching easier.
  5. Use a nipple shield: just like with inverted nipples, nipple shields can be a tool that can assist with small nipples, especially in the early days of breastfeeding when you may also be dealing with engorgement. 

Tips for breastfeeding with large nipples

Taking a look at your nipple and your baby’s tiny mouth and not seeing how this is going to work? Rest assured, like with any other nipple shape and size, most babies have no trouble at all.  If you are finding your baby is struggling, especially in the early days, or you are experiencing pain, try some of my tips below. (wide nipples, long nipples, both)

  1. Proper positioning: third time's a charm for mentioning this one…really it is that important! Make sure the baby is positioned correctly, with their nose level with the nipple and their mouth open wide, before latching on.
  2. Use a nipple shield: Nipple shields can be used to help the baby latch on by providing a smaller opening for the baby to attach to.
  3. Help your baby to open WIDER for a latch by helping them relax the muscles of their jaw. Use gentle circular massage around the jaw muscles to help relax these muscles and allow the baby to open wider. If you are still struggling to get the baby to open widely to latch, seeking bodywork with a craniosacral therapist or pediatrician chiropractor can be extremely helpful. 
  4. Consult a lactation consultant: A lactation consultant can provide guidance and support on how to breastfeed effectively with large nipples.

Common troubleshooting …..

What does a lipstick-shaped nipple mean?

Does your nipple look like your favorite tube of lipstick after your baby is finished with their nursing session? This is a common issue and typically indicates a shallow latch. When your nipple does not reach the back of your baby’s mouth to their soft palate and instead is pushed between their tongue and the hard palate during a feeding session, the pressure creates the lipstick shape. 

Here are my tips for dealing with lipstick-shaped nipples 

  • Wait for your baby to open wide prior to latching.
  • Let their chin land the latch…chin should be pressed into the breast while their nose is clear.
  • Latch in a laidback position, I know I’m going for a record on mentioning this one, but it is that important!

Check out my blog, Top 5 Tips to Fix a Shallow Latch, here. If you are persistently seeing this shape and have tried all the things, be sure to reach out to an IBCLC to have your baby’s latch evaluated more closely to look for underlying causes.

What do cracked and bleeding nipples mean?

Cracked nipples are about as fun as they sound. Chapped, red, painful, cracked, and bleeding nipples are a big sign that your baby is not latched correctly. Similar to the lipstick shape, when your baby’s hard palate and tongue collide or they are using their gums on your nipple, it can irritate and break down your nipple tissue. 

Here are my top tips for dealing with sore, cracked or bleeding nipples 

  • Latch, baby! Helping your baby get a deep latch is key to helping heal your nipples and get on track. 
  • Consider taking a 24-hour break from nursing at the breast and using a pump. 
  • Address engorgement–trying reverse pressure softening, lymphatic breast massage, and using ice as needed to ease engorgement.
  • Check for thrush–thrush is a yeast infection on your breast and in your baby’s mouth. Click here for more signs and symptoms. 
  • Check out my blog on caring for sore nipples, here. 

With knowledge, support, and adjustments, your breastfeeding journey can be successful no matter what your nipple shape and size! You and your baby are finding your way more and more each day. Keep on kicking ass!



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