Breastfeeding when you have inverted nipples

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 Photo: Getty Images

Before having her first baby, Jade didn't think she would have problems breastfeeding.

"It wasn't until the midwives asked to see my breasts and mentioned I had inverted nipples with a concerned look on their faces that I started to become nervous that perhaps it was going to be challenging."

Those challenges began as soon as her baby Miah was born.

Jade found feeding painful and sought help from a lactation consultant.

She used nipple shields and healing creams but, because Miah wasn't putting on weight, she stopped breastfeeding her when she was three weeks old.

Jade went through a similar experience with her second baby and decided not to breastfeed her third.

But when she found out she was then expecting twins, she was determined to breastfeed.

She started expressing, which she found less painful, and ended up successfully breastfeeding her twins for four and a half months.

While Jade had a long and difficult journey towards successful breastfeeding, this isn't always the case for those with inverted nipples, says midwife Amanda Bude from Groovy Babies.

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She says approximately 10-20 percent of women have inverted nipples, which she says is simply "a version of normal".

While some women (and men) have two inverted nipples, many have one inverted one, and one normal one.

In Jade's case, she says having short nipple length was a complicating factor, but that this doesn't affect everyone with inverted nipples.

While she says some inverted nipples revert when pregnant, even if your nipples stay inverted through pregnancy and after delivery, Amanda reassures you should still be able to breastfeed.

"Babies latch onto the breast, not the nipple," she says.

That said, if you have an inverted nipple and are worried about feeding, you should seek help early - before giving birth if possible.

If you've already had your baby, Amanda says there are ways to help your nipple "pop out" before a feed.

You may be able to manually draw it out with your hands, using a cold compress or trying a breast pump on low suction.

Nipple shields, which are thin silicone covers placed over the nipples, can also help.

To use a nipple shield correctly, The Women's Hospital advises expressing a few drops of milk to start your flow.

Then smear some milk on the outside of the shield to encourage your baby to attach.

Put the shield over your nipple and hold it in place with your fingers on the outer edge.

Wait for your baby to open her mouth wide, then bring your baby quickly onto the shield and ensure your baby is sucking and swallowing.

Amanda recommends seeing a lactation consultant for advice.

Mind you, she says, "Often the best equipment is actually the baby, latching on correctly!"

If your breasts are very engorged, your baby could have additional trouble attaching.

Amanda says a manoeuvre known as "reverse pressure softening" can stimulate the nipple to come out.

The aim of the manoeuvre is to push fluid back into the breast to relieve pressure.

To do that, apply pressure with two or three fingers of each hand at the sides of your nipple and hold for one to three minutes, until the tissue softens.

"The nipple then pops out and the bub can easily attach."

(To see how this works, she recommends this YouTube video.)

Alternatively, she says you can express a small amount of milk by hand first, to improve your baby's chance of attaching correctly.

With the right support, education and equipment, Amanda reassures that breastfeeding with inverted nipples can be successful.

Jade agrees.

Despite all her challenges, she's proud to say: "I'm proof it can be done!"