Cracked Nipples Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your cracked nipples symptoms, including 2 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 2 Possible Cracked Nipples Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. Related Articles
  9. References

Cracked Nipples Symptoms

Anyone, either male or female, can experience cracked nipples. The areola, the area of skin surrounding the nipple, and the nipple, are more delicate and prone to injury than most of the skin on the rest of the body. Cracked nipples can be caused by breastfeeding, chafing, or underlying skin conditions.

Common characteristics of cracked nipples

Cracked nipples may be described by:

  • Splitting skin that oozes: The tissue of the areolas may split, bleed, or ooze.
  • Pain: The area around the nipple may be tender, if not outright painful.
  • Cracks might peel or become crusted over

Cracked Nipples Causes

The following details may help you better understand your symptoms. See a lactation specialist if you continue to have trouble breastfeeding, or a physician if your cracked nipples persist for other reasons.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is not supposed to hurt. While it may not be comfortable, there is something wrong if breastfeeding is considered painful [1,2]. Pain commonly occurs with either improper positioning of the baby on the breast or a poor latch. It may be difficult to properly position infants with torticollis, a stiff, painful neck, sometimes the result of difficult labor or birth. Babies with ankyloglossia (tongue-tie) may not be able to latch properly.

Friction-related causes

Friction can cause nipples to become chafed and cracked. Runners refer to this as "jogger's nipple," surfers call it "surfer's nipple," and divers call it "wetsuit rub." Any athletic (or sexual) activity which involves constant friction on the nipples can cause them to crack.

Other skin conditions

Dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, and allergic reactions are all conditions that can cause skin rashes. If the rash is over the nipples, the skin of can become dry, scaly, and split [3,4]. These cracks may bleed or become infected and start oozing.

2 Possible Cracked Nipples Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced cracked nipples. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Allergic contact dermatitis of the chest

Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes irritated and inflamed following physical contact with an allergen. Common products known to cause allergic dermatitis include plants, metals, soap, fragrance, and cosmetics.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: chest redness, chest itch, scabbed area of the chest

Symptoms that always occur with allergic contact dermatitis of the chest: chest redness

Urgency: Self-treatment

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Breast infection (mastitis)

Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness of the breast. Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breast-feeding (lactation mastitis), although sometimes this condition can occur in women who aren't breast-feeding.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fatigue, nausea, breast pain, signs of breast inflammation like redness, swelling or fever, fever

Symptoms that always occur with breast infection (mastitis): breast pain, signs of breast inflammation like redness, swelling or fever

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Cracked Nipples Treatments and Relief

If the cause of your cracked nipples is related to breastfeeding or friction, treatment can begin at home and will likely be effective.

When to see a doctor

If your difficulty breastfeeding persists, you should reach out to your physician or a lactation specialist. If the severity of your symptoms worsens or persists, you should consult your physician as well.

Tips for proper latching

With breastfeeding, positioning the baby properly on the breast is essential to preventing and treating cracked nipples. There are many ways to hold a baby while breastfeeding. In all holds, the baby needs to be close, with their ear, shoulder, and hip aligned. Recognizing a poor latch is a learning process. Some indications of a proper latch include the following.

  • The baby's nose is almost touching the breast
  • The baby's lips are flared open: Think fish lips, instead of tucked in or over the gums.
  • Painless: While there might be discomfort, there should not be any nipple or breast pain.
  • Good coverage: The baby's mouth covers about a half inch of the areola, not just the nipple itself.

At-home treatments for breastfeeding

Treatments to address cracked nipples from breastfeeding include the following.

  • Apply topical lanolin
  • Apply colostrum or breast milk to the injured area
  • Keep the nipples open to air
  • Adjust: Rotate the baby's position on the breast to take the pressure off the cracked area.
  • Pump by hand: Temporarily pump or express breast milk by hand.
  • Start each feed on the uninjured breast
  • Pain medication: Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), the preferred NSAID while breastfeeding, for pain.

At-home treatments to reduce friction

"Jogger's nipple," is most likely to happen during winter or other dry weather conditions. Surfers and divers experience wetsuit rub from the constant friction of a wetsuit or surfboard against the chest. If your nipples are severely cracked, you may need to avoid similar activities temporarily. Antiseptic creams (such as Neosporin) can facilitate healing. All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO), made up of betamethasone, miconazole, and mupirocin, is available by prescription. To avoid friction-related cracked nipples you can also try to:

  • Avoid wearing clothing made of coarse material
  • Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing
  • Wear a supportive bra made of soft material
  • Apply a balm or a topical, waterproof emollient prior to activities
  • Wear nipple covers or cover nipples with band-aids

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate treatment or call 911 for the following.

FAQs About Cracked Nipples

Here are some frequently asked questions about cracked nipples.

Why do I have cracked nippled while breastfeeding?

Nipple injury usually is due to incorrect breastfeeding technique, particularly poor position or latch-on. Other factors may include harsh breast cleansing, use of potentially irritating products, and biting by an older infant. In addition, skin conditions such as dermatitis as well as bacterial or fungal infections are more common in women who are breastfeeding or lactating. Any of these conditions can lead to cracked, painful, or bleeding nipples.

Why I do have cracked nipples with pus?

If you have cracked nipples with pus, it is very likely that you have an infection in the breast tissue or milk ducts. Women who are lactating or breastfeeding are at higher risk for infection of the nipple or breast, but anyone can get a breast infection. The presence of pus suggests a bacterial infection, which is also common among women who are breastfeeding or lactating. Cracking of the nipples may be a symptom of the infection. It is also possible that the nipples were cracked from breastfeeding or other trauma, and then became secondarily infected.

What do cracked nipples mean when I'm not breastfeeding?

Chafing is a common cause of cracked or bleeding nipples in men, especially men who participate in endurance sports. Chafing of the nipple can occur with women as well. Other possible causes of cracked nipples include benign conditions of the breast, such as eczema, dermatitis caused by contact irritation, and nipple adenoma. However, cracked nipples can also be a sign of breast cancer (Paget disease of the breast) or skin cancers (such as squamous carcinoma of the epidermis, basal cell carcinoma, and superficial spreading malignant melanoma).

Can I still breastfeed with cracked nipples?

Most doctors recommend continuing to breastfeed with cracked nipples, as long as the pain is tolerable. If one nipple is cracked, it is possible to breastfeed on the other side to give the cracked nipple a chance to heal. It is also possible to pump breast milk while the nipples heal, and then continue breastfeeding. Typically, cracked nipples during lactation and breastfeeding indicate there is a problem with infant positioning or latch. Education on proper positioning and attachment of the infant may be the best intervention for alleviating nipple pain.

Can cracked nipples become infected?

Yes. The protective barrier of the skin is disrupted as nipples become cracked, which increases the susceptibility to infection. It is common for women who are lactating or breastfeeding to experience cracked nipples from improper positioning, improper latch, or possible trauma from biting in older infants. Bacteria in the infant's mouth can then enter the breast tissue and cause an infection. It is also possible for women who are not breastfeeding or men to experience cracked nipples that then become secondarily infected. If you suspect you have a nipple infection, seek medical treatment.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Cracked Nipples

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Did you suffer from any complications during pregnancy or childbirth?
  • When did you have your most recent child?
  • Are you currently pregnant?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your cracked nipples. These questions are also covered.

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Cracked Nipples Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced cracked nipples have also experienced:

  • 7% Nipple Ulcer
  • 6% Bloody Vaginal Discharge
  • 5% Breast Pain

People who have experienced cracked nipples were most often matched with:

  • 80% Breast Infection (Mastitis)
  • 20% Allergic Contact Dermatitis Of The Chest

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Cracked Nipples Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Kent JC, Ashton E, Hardwick CM, et al. Nipple pain in breastfeeding mothers: Incidence, causes and treatments. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015;12(10):12247-12263. NCBI Link

  2. Sore or cracked nipples when breastfeeding. NHS. Updated October 28, 2016. NHS Link

  3. Parlakgumus A, Yildirim S, Bolat FA, et al. Dermatoses of the nipple. Canadian Journal of Surgery. 2009;52(5):160-1. NCBI Link

  4. Whitaker-Worth DL, Carlone V, Susser WS, Phelan N, Grant-Kels JM. Dermatologic diseases of the breast and nipple. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2000;43(5 Pt 1):733-751, Quiz 752-754. NCBI Link

  5. Burd I. Breast skin and nipple changes. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated November 11, 2016. MedlinePlus Link