Let me guess, your nipples don’t look like the ones you saw in the books and online?! Now you’re freaking that they won’t work! Girl, let me tell you, most nipples don’t look like that! Nipples come in all shapes and sizes. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Seriously. They’re perky, flat, long, short, stretchy, inelastic, thick, very large, very small, inverted, and missing. I’ve seen it all!
Below I’m going to give you some detail on different nipple types and give you an idea of what to expect from your particular brand of nipple. Keep reading!…This isn’t meant to scare you off, but to tell you what you’re possibly dealing with and how to be prepared! Like I’ve said before, don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that since you’ve got “flat” or “inverted” (” ” because mom’s often assume they’re flat if they don’t have nipples that look like the picture below). Here’s a secret that no one tells you: Your nipples change dramatically while you are breastfeeding (becoming more breastfeeding-friendly). So even if there are challenges in the beginning, your nipples are very likely going to work just fine.
Very few nipple types make breastfeeding impossible.
Nipples that stand out on their own, all the time, would be considered perky nipples. This is what I’d call “good equipment”. A perky nipple is ideally much easier for a baby to latch onto that some other nipple types. However, if the baby is tongue-tied or the breast tissue is very taut and not very elastic, the baby may still have trouble latching. But girl, most first-time mom nipples do not look like this! For realz.
Nipples that don’t stand out much or at all could be considered flat nipples. You may think this is an automatic problem, but not necessarily. Most of the time what a mother or even an inexperienced RN may call “flat” may work just fine. See, the breast is smart. There are tiny muscles in the nipple that work to contract and make the nipple erect when it is touched or stimulated. Some mothers refer to this as the nipple getting hard. Once this happens, it appears like a perky nipple.
Another key factor in whether a flat nipple will be an issue is whether the breast tissue is elastic or not. Babies “breast” feed, not “nipple” feed. If the breast tissue is stretchy enough to get a lot of the breast into the baby’s mouth (including the nipple, obvi), the baby may be able to breastfeed just fine. However, if the tissue is not stretchy, the flat nipple may be a problem. In my experience, a lot of first time moms have less elasticity and have more trouble getting enough of the breast into the baby’s mouth for comfort initially. But listen, your breasts will change so much during breastfeeding. You’ll become more elastic as you continue to breastfeed. (Trust me, I could breastfeed my fifth kid from across the room.)
Along with inelasticity keeping enough breast tissue from going into the baby’s mouth, short, very small, very large, and thick nipples can cause a problem, too. Short and very small nipples present a problem because there just isn’t enough to reach deeply into the baby’s mouth. (Shallow latch = pain) Very large and thick nipples result in too much to get into the baby’s mouth.
Inverted nipples are nipples that fold inward. Some inverted nipples will unfold with stimulation and stand out like perky nipples. Some, however, will not. There are adhesions inside the nipple that cause it to be inverted. We aren’t exactly sure why this happens. For many mothers, as breastfeeding progresses, these adhesions break and the nipple will remain erect. Meaning breastfeeding may be more uncomfortable initially, but will become comfortable with time. Some mothers are only able to get the nipple erect during feedings. And for some extremely tight adhesions, the nipple never everts.
So, what does all of this even mean?
This means that, like I said before, nipples come in many varieties. Some varieties make breastfeeding easier than others. Very few nipple types make breastfeeding impossible.
- If your breasts are not very elastic, we may try different positions that allow baby to latch deeply.
- If your nipples are very small, short, or inverted, we may try a nipple shield to help baby stay attached to the breast.
- We might try a pump or a nipple “everter” tool to help draw out an inverted nipple.
- For very large nipples, you may need to pump until your baby’s mouth gets a little bit bigger.
So, your job now is to learn about breastfeeding, look at your nipples and get an idea of what you’re working with, and find the number of a lactation consultant in your area so you can get help quickly if needed. Most hospital OB units staff a lactation consultant at least part-time. Take advantage of them! I cannot say this enough. You want to use the help while it’s just down the hall as much as possible before you’re on your own. The lactation consultants want you to go home feeling confident! Good luck, Mama!
Have you had any trouble latching because of your nipple type?
I’d love to hear your experience!
What worked? What didn’t? What would you do differently?
Tell me below in the comments!
Preparing for Breastfeeding in Pregnancy