By: Melissa Portunato MPH, IBCLC, RLC
There’s been quite the buzz on “elastic nipples” lately. Whether you’re on social media or part of a virtual mommy group you’ve likely heard the term. It’s probably left you wondering if YOU have elastic nipples and if you’re even using the correct flange size. Don’t worry mama! We’ve got you covered. Read on to get the real 411 on elastic nipples.
Here’s the deal. The skin on and around your nipple (areola) was intended to be stretched by breastfeeding. The nipple stretching is actually a good thing! Moms with truly inverted nipples or skin that is less elastic, are at an increased likelihood to experience issues with low milk supply, soreness, and nipple discomfort. Now if nipple elasticity is associated with low milk supply, pain, redness, or discomfort then it definitely needs to be addressed. Pumping shouldn’t hurt.
But how much should the nipple stretch when pumping to be experiencing “elastic nipples?” For the most part, the nipple should stretch a little less than half way down the flange when pumping. If it’s way past that – like hitting the backflow protector or end of the flange and you’re experiencing pain or low milk output, then it’s time to troubleshoot. Otherwise, elasticity itself is no cause for concern.
Check out these 4 tips on how to get relief if you have “elastic nipples” and pain when pumping:
#1) Lower The Vacuum Strength
Please don’t think you have to work up your nipple tolerance to level 12 vacuum. Vacuum strength should always be set to comfort. Moms are surprised to see they pump the same amount whether pumping on a high suction or medium / low suction. Every mom is different. Keeping the cycle steady and lowering suction strength can help lessen the elasticity of the nipple. Pumping with your S1/S2 steady on the expression cycle 54 vacuum between 5-6 for 15-20 min can help minimize discomfort.
#2) Check Your Flange Size
This part could be tricky. Typically a flange that’s too big will cause the areola to be pulled farther into the tunnel but if a flange is restrictive the nipple will rub inside the tunnel and stretch it farther too. That’s why it’s important to work directly with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. It’s normal for nipple size to fluctuate. Measure to know your nipple diameter. But this only tells us a piece of the story. Some moms will benefit from going up a size or changing sizes throughout their breastfeeding journey.
#3) Lubricating Before Pumping
Hand express a few minutes before pumping and squeeze a few drops of breastmilk to lubricate the inside of the tunnel. This can help keep your nipple in place and help with soreness too. You can do this with lanolin or a few drops of olive oil too! Reposition your flanges every few minutes while pumping if needed. Hand express for a few minutes after pumping and let breastmilk air dry on them to help heal and keep them healthy. Bonus – hand expressing before and after pumping can trigger more milk production.
#4) Silicone Inserts / Massagers
A massager or silicone insert can offer relief sometimes but not always. Spending a ton of cash on accessories that either don’t work or fit properly can be frustrating.Too often moms find these products can actually decrease suction and they find them hard to keep in place. If you’d like to try one of these, go for it! But it’s best to look for an insert that offers a money back guarantee or can send you multiple sizes to find the best fit. If you do find it hard to keep an insert in place, try moistening it with a few drops of water or breastmilk. Moisture can help create a better seal.
Correct flange sizing and lower suction can usually be a quick fix to get relief from elastic nipples. But what if you’ve tried it all. You have the correct size, low suction and still have your nipple stretching way past the halfway mark but don’t have any pain? Then you’re good mama! Pump on! Your body is doing exactly what it was intended to do.
Schedule a virtual consultation with us and we can help with tips to manage pain and discomfort associated with elastic nipples. We can help with flange sizing and troubleshoot your pump too. You’re doing really great at breastfeeding mama. We’re proud of you!