At the beginning, breastfeeding can be pretty painful. Our breasts may be biologically programmed to produce milk and nourish infants, but our nipples are probably not prepared for the rigor of it all. Constant sucking, especially when the baby doesn't quite have it figured out yet, can make nipples feel raw and painful. Desperate to soothe them, we'll try almost anything that is recommended, including whatever cream is recommended to us. There are some frequently recommended ones out there now, including some made with shea butter, but is shea butter safe while breastfeeding? It's important to find out before we let our babies ingest it.
In fact, shea butter is perfectly safe, according to Leigh Anne O'Connor, an international board certified lactation consultant who has been in practice over two decades. In an email to Romper, O'Connor recommends making sure that the shea butter that is used in the cream be organic which are a safer bet, especially for babies.
Nipple pain can be excruciating and can often cause women to consider giving up on nursing. For things that are so tiny, babies have really strong sucking mechanisms. I had so much pain with one of my babies, that I would dread feedings, knowing that even though I was giving my baby a wonderful thing, the pain was causing me to go out of my mind. But it got better and found that there are many different types of things you can use to soothe your nipples in between feedings.
Before you seek out creams or other store bought remedies, La Leche League suggests you try expressing breast milk and rubbing it on your nipples if they are sore, drying out, or show signs of cracking. This is not only soothing, but the breast milk has antibacterial qualities (and you know it's safe to ingest!). They also suggest trying warm water compresses or soaking tea bags and placing them on your nipples to soothe them. All of these treatments are good first steps to try because they are all readily available and inexpensive. In a study in Manitoba, Canada, tea bag compresses and warm water compresses were both found to give relief to the nursing moms.
La Leche League also recommends a product called Lansinoh ($9, Target), which drugs.com describes as a purified version of lanolin (yellow fat obtained from sheep's wool) that, "has the pesticide and detergent residues removed and the natural free alcohols reduced to below 1.5% to improve safety and reduce the allergic potential." In fact, if you are delivering your baby in the hospital, they might give you a tube to help with your breastfeeding journey.
Danielle Downs Spradlin, an international board certified lactation consultant, says, in an email to Romper, that topical skin creams are generally safe to use, but the nipples and areolas are different because anything on them could wind up in the baby's mouth. Spradlin says most over-the-counter topical and cosmetic products are GRAS, or Generally Recognized As Safe and do not pass into the bloodstream. Because they don't get into the bloodstream, they do not get into the milk supply that way. She also recommends trying edible oils such as coconut oil or olive oil, but cautions that if the baby ingests too much oil, it could cause oily stools. If this happens you should call your pediatrician and stop using the oils on your nipples.
If you are still concerned about the safety of any of these products mentioned, it's fine to use the cream and then remove it from your breasts before feeding time. Some moms, like Blair, who recently gave birth to a baby boy were given Lansinoh in the hospital and while the staff told her it was safe, she would still wash it off each time before she nursed.
There are many safe and effective ways to treat sore nipples and those that include shea butter are definitely worth a try. If you find you are using creams for an extended amount of time, Spradlin says it's possible that your baby isn't latching correctly or your breast pump isn't positioned right and it might be helpful to seek out a lactation consultant to help.
Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.