Nursing

closeup of newborn nursing, how to breastfeed with flat nipples
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Your Guide To Breastfeeding With Flat Nipples

With some nipple know-how, you can breastfeed with ease.

Your boobs have been your breast friends for years. And you might not have ever given your breasts or your nipples) a second thought until you got pregnant and planned to breastfeed your baby. That’s when you might have noticed that your nipples aren’t as pointy as maybe you’d hope they’d be to help with nursing your newborn — but they don’t need to be. If you’re worried about breastfeeding with flat nipples, don’t worry. It is entirely possible to breastfeeding your child and get your baby to latch onto flat nipples, and there are specific positions and tools that can make the process even more seamless.

How can you tell if you have flat nipples?

What exactly does a flat nipple look like? “Flat nipples are nipples that do not stick out or ‘evert’ after being stimulated (rolled, squeezed, etc),” Lilly Schott, IBCLC, RNC, MSN, a registered nurse and lactation counselor explains to Romper. “If your nipple and areola blend into each other even after you try to pull out the nipple, then you may have flat nipples.” While some nipples are pointy and others flat, some nipples (called “inverted nipples”) will even go inwards toward your body. It’s estimated that 10-20% of all females are born with more or more inverted nipples, researchers found.

What does it mean if you have flat nipples?

Flat nipples don’t necessarily differ all that much from their pointier peers. You can still experience sensitivities (like pleasure or pain) with any type of nipple, except that yours will sit more flush or level to your areola, lactation consultant Jada Shapiro, IBCLC, tells Romper. But does it mean anything if you have flat nipples? Nope, says Schott. “Flat nipples are a normal variation of nipple shape, as are inverted nipples,” she explains. ”Nipple and breast shape is often determined early in our body’s development, and can change with puberty, pregnancy and breastfeeding.” In fact, according to Schott, no two nipples are the same — even on the same person.

Is latching different if you have flat nipples?

Although you can absolutely breastfeed with any kind of nipple, you might have to put in a little extra effort if your nipples are flat. “Latching can be different if you have flat nipples and the baby’s not able to feel the nipple on their soft palate,” says Shapiro. “You can get a deeper latch by using a technique called ‘sandwiching’ where the lactating parent compresses and re-shapes their breast to get more tissue deeper into the baby’s mouth.” Regardless of your nipple shape, a deep latch is important, as a shallow latch can be quite painful for the breastfeeding parent.

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Tips for breastfeeding with flat nipples

1. Find a good position

If you have flat nipples and want to breastfeed, you’ll need to find the best positions that allow you to hold your breast to create what Schott describes as “an exaggerated nipple shape” can be helpful (see the photo below). “This can include holding your breast with a C-hold, a two-finger hold or Concorde hold,” she says. “Football positioning can be helpful, while some babies like a laid-back position to use their own reflexes.

2. Massage your breasts before nursing

The biggest concern Before it’s time to nurse your baby, you’ll want to get your boobs ready for breastfeeding. Why? Because when a baby stimulates your nipples with their mouth, it helps with your milk production, according to a PubMed study.

In lieu of that, you’ll need to signal to your breasts that it’s time for a feeding. “Pre-stimulation and breast massage prior to feeding is necessary, as nipple stimulation is unavailable or insufficient,” lactation counselor Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC, explains. This can be done manually by touching or rubbing your nipples to provide that stimulation necessary to nursing.

3. Try a nipple shield and nipple stimulators

In addition to holding your baby in the proper position and helping to push your nipple outward with your hand, a nipple shield (which works to extend your nipple) might also come in handy. “Some parents find using a nipple stimulator like a Hakkaa or hand pump can stimulate a small amount of eversion that helps,” says Schott. “Some parents also use a nipple shield to create a firmer surface for their baby to grasp.” Adds Georgakopoulos: “I recommend a shield that as a curved cutout around the top so that skin contact can be made, which helps with milk flow and baby's familiarity with the mother's skin.”

Is breastfeeding more painful with flat nipples?

Breastfeeding isn’t always as natural as some might think, and it can take both the lactating parent and Baby some time before they’ve got some nursing know-how, regardless of nipple type. Even parents who don’t have flat or inverted nipples know the pain of a toothless newborn gnashing on their breasts. Will it be more painful, though? Not necessarily. “If your baby is having challenges while learning to latch, this can cause nipple pain,” says Schott. “But once you’ve gotten into your groove, breastfeeding with flat nipples should not be painful.” Taking preventative measures (like pre-stimulation of the breast and using a nipple shield) can alleviate any potential pain caused by nursing.

What does it mean if you have flat nipples after breastfeeding?

Before a feed, your breasts were full to bursting. But after Baby had their fill, you might have looked down at your chest and felt deflated — literally. If everything looks flat (from your breasts to your areola to your nipples), don’t despair, because breastfeeding doesn’t cause flat nipples, according to Shapiro. “Nipple shape is present before you begin breastfeeding,” she explains. “Sometimes the nipple permanently elongates or protrudes after breastfeeding and a person who had flat nipples before breastfeeding will no longer have flat nipples.”

Only time will tell if and how your nipple shape might be affected by nursing. “Once you have completely stopped breastfeeding, your hormones will adjust over a few months,” says Schott. “This hormonal regulation will influence the shape of your breasts and nipples, so it takes some time to know what’s permanent.”

No matter if you have flat, inverted, or pointy nipples, you can breastfeed your baby. And once you and Baby get the hang of things, nursing will be a breeze, and you’ll be able to enjoy the bonding that comes with breastfeeding — and not worry about nipples.

Studies referenced:

Rao, D., Winters, R. (2022) Inverted Nipple. National Library of Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK563190/

(2009) The physiological basis of breastfeeding, World Health Organization, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK148970/

Sources interviewed:

Lilly Schott, IBCLC, RNC, MSN, a registered nurse and lactation counselor

Jada Shapiro, IBCLC, founder of boober

Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC, a lactation counselor and Motif Medical Lactation Director