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Breastfeeding With Inverted Nipples

Q: I'm pregnant with my first child and after doing some research I've decided that breastfeeding is what's best for my baby. But there's a problem: I have inverted nipples. My doctor says that breastfeeding is still possible -- that a hungry baby will "sort it out" -- but I'm worried that it won't work and my baby's health will suffer as a result. Is there anything I can do to improve my odds?

Dr. Donnica: Your doctor is right. Many women with flat or inverted nipples can successfully breastfeed their babies. Remember, babies breastfeed, they don't nipple-feed. If the baby can latch onto a mouthful of breast, which includes the nipple and areola area, they will be able to suck out enough breast milk.

As with most things involving motherhood, this advice is not set in stone. Some nipples are harder for the baby to latch onto (this depends upon how flat, inverted, folded, or dimpled it is, how easily it becomes everted when stimulated, etc.) and sometimes this is uncomfortable for the nursing mother.

Remember also that babies aren't born automatically "knowing" how to nurse. They have to learn and so do new moms. For this and many other reasons, I strongly recommend that you ask for a lactation consultant to meet with you while you're in the hospital. It would also be helpful to meet with a lactation consultant again in a week or two, or as needed, if either of you are having any nursing difficulties.

There are devices and techniques that can be employed to facilitate nursing if necessary. These include breast shells (also called "milk cups" or breast shields), techniques to loosen adhesions at the base of the nipple, breast pumps, nipple stimulation, nipple everters, and nipple shields. Support groups such as La Leche League can also be helpful. Just remember that the most important goal is to make sure your baby gets the proper nutrition; how s/he gets it is secondary.

Created: 6/13/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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