Breastfeeding can be full of challenges, but sometimes those challenges can even come from your own anatomy. Many women are surprised to find that breast size is pretty irrelevant to breastfeeding success. Nipple size and shape, such as inverted or flat nipples, on the other hand . . . that makes more of a difference.
So, can you breastfeed with flat nipples?
The short answer is yes, you absolutely can, but it may be more challenging, especially in the early days.
Why can flat nipples make breastfeeding more challenging?
When a baby feeds, their suction draws the mother’s nipple out. While your nipples may seem relatively flat — or even completely — they don’t really remain that way when baby feeds.
On the other hand, flat nipples can make it more challenging for baby to latch properly. To establish a proper latch, baby needs to draw the mother’s nipple all the way back into his or her mouth. That may be tough at first, especially with a baby who’s not used to breastfeeding.
The contact of the nipple with the baby’s palate stimulates the baby to suck. This, in turn, draws the nipple out further, making it easier to maintain a good latch.
Maintaining a proper latch is critical to breastfeeding success. A good latch allows for the most efficient transfer of milk for baby. Just as important, it enables a mother to breastfeed without pain (at least after the first few weeks).
How can I make breastfeeding with flat nipples easier?
While breastfeeding with flat nipples can be done, easier is pretty much always better. There is a technique, called the Hoffman Technique, mothers can try to improve baby’s access to the nipple. In a 2017 study, this technique was shown to improve the quality of breastfeeding.
If you’re interested in trying the Hoffman technique, you can read through a quick tutorial here.
You may also want to try a nipple shield. Nipple shields can be helpful for breastfeeding with flat nipples (or inverted nipples – see the following section). They can also work wonders for women who are experiencing temporary pain while breastfeeding or having difficulty establishing a good latch.
A good lactation consultant can help you properly use a nipple shield and decide if/when to discontinue its use. Longer-term use of a nipple shield may affect milk supply, so it’s good to have a professional’s assistance with this.
What about inverted nipples?
Breastfeeding with inverted nipples can be another challenge. As with breastfeeding with flat nipples, you may want to experiment with the Hoffman technique and/or a nipple shield.
A qualified lactation consultant may also be particularly helpful in showing you techniques for establishing and maintaining a good latch. Plus, a lactation consultant can provide you with good tips for breastfeeding success in general and answer personalized questions and concerns.
In the end, while it may be more difficult to establish breastfeeding with flat nipples, it can absolutely be done!
Breastfeeding, although a “natural process,” is a learned skill that gets easier with time. This is especially true if you have inverted or flat nipples.
Learning the feeding techniques that work best for you and your baby is an essential part of the breastfeeding journey.