Every parent planning to breastfeed hopes that their baby will be born and immediately latch to the breast and feed without any complications or challenges. But that’s not always the case. Breastfeeding is a learning experience for both mother and baby, even if it’s not a mother’s first baby, because every baby and every experience is different. One of the many challenges people may find with breastfeeding is their nipple shape and how well their baby is able to latch and suckle. People with flat or inverted nipples may find the learning process a bit difficult for themselves and getting their baby to latch on and maintain a strong latch to suckle. But the good news is that breastfeeding is possible for all nipple shapes and sizes. If you have flat or inverted nipples, this article will discuss tips and information on ways to successfully breastfeed.
Are my nipples flat or inverted?
You can check your nipples to see if they are flat or inverted by placing your thumb and forefinger on each side of your areola (the darker skin around the nipple) and gently squeezing. Flat and inverted nipples retract into the breast tissue instead of stiffening and protruding outwards.
Ways you can make breastfeeding work with flat or inverted nipples
Nipple stimulation usually causes the nipple to become stiffer and protrude—even flat and inverted nipples. There are several ways you can stimulate your nipples to draw the nipple out of the areola to help your baby latch on and maintain their latch. Oftentimes, after several days or weeks of breastfeeding or using a breast pump, flat or inverted nipples may evert naturally.
It is important to note that if you are pregnant and want to use nipple stimulation to prepare your nipples for breastfeeding, you should wait until you are 37 weeks or more because nipple stimulation can cause contractions.
Manual nipple stimulation is simple and effective to help draw out flat nipples. You can do this by gently pinching your nipple between your thumb and finger or using a cold, damp cloth to gently wipe over the nipples.
Another stimulation method you can try is called the Hoffman technique. This technique has been found to effectively improve inverted nipples and the quality of breastfeeding. Perform the Hoffman technique by:
- Placing your thumbs on each side of your nipple. Be sure to start at the base of the nipple and not the edge of the areola.
- Press your thumbs firmly into the areola.
- While pressing, pull your thumbs away from each other.
- Repeat for five pulls.
- Move your thumbs into different positions around the nipple and repeat.
Sometimes the nipples can become firm and flat and difficult for the baby to effectively latch because the breast becomes engorged with milk. You can help soften your nipple and make it more everted by hand expressing just enough milk to soften the breast and nipple. Follow these steps to hand express:
- Cup your breast with one hand and with your other hand, make a “C” shape with your thumb and forefinger just outside the areola.
Gently squeeze and release with a rhythmic pressure until you see drops of milk begin to flow.
- Using a Warming and Vibration Lactation Massagercan help achieve a quicker, more effective letdown of milk.
Using a breast pump
Breast pumps are great devices to create rhythmic suction to encourage the nipples to protrude. For very deeply inverted nipples, breast pumps can be especially helpful to draw out the nipples.
Pumping can be made easy, convenient, efficient, and discreet with our wearable, hands-free breast pumps. The S9 Pro Wearable Breast Pump is a hospital grade pump with quiet operation and long-lasting battery life.
The S12 Pro Wearable Breast Pump is a high efficiency hospital grade pump with a double-sealed, soft silicone flange design that helps pump comfortably and highly efficiently.
Alternative suction devices
There are several aiding tools on the market to assist with breastfeeding for people with flat and inverted nipples that use suction to evert the nipples. Some of these products include:
- Nipple correctors: These are small, silicone cups that can be manual or battery operated. Manual correctors work by squeezing the silicone cup and applying it over the nipple, creating negative pressure to pull the nipple outward.
- Latch assists: These work much like nipple correctors, but the suction cup has a suction bulb attached to it. The bulb can be squeezed to apply a comfortable amount of pressure rhythmically.
- Pulling devices: These devices are tube-like with a plunger on one end. Apply the open end over the nipple and use vacuum suction from the plunger on the other end to draw out the nipple.
- Breast shells: These are small, plastic and silicone shells that you place over the nipple and are held in place with your bra. They apply a consistent pressure that help to gradually evert the nipple.
Nipple shields are soft, flexible silicone shields shaped like a nipple that is placed over the flat or inverted nipple and areola to encourage and help the baby achieve an effective latch. There is, however, evidence for concern that nipple shields may reduce the transfer of milk and interfere with the breast being completely emptied. Babies may also become dependent on using a nipple shield and prefer it over nursing on the natural breast. If you are considering using a nipple shield, it is recommended to speak with a lactation consultant to determine if it is the best option for you and your baby.
Contact a lactation consultant
Lactation consultants can be invaluable sources of knowledge, advice, and help for guiding you and your baby on your breastfeeding journey. They are trained in lactation-specific education and acquire several hundred hours in clinical lactation experience.