Breastfeeding With Flat or Inverted Nipples — Is It Possible? - Baby Chick
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Breastfeeding With Flat or Inverted Nipples — Is It Possible?

Women with inverted or flat nipples may worry that it's not possible to breastfeed their new baby. But it is! Here's what you need to know.

Updated April 17, 2024

by Meg Nagle

RN, IBCLC
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Breasts and nipples come in all shapes and sizes. It’s not uncommon for us to worry during pregnancy if we think something is a bit “funky” about our nipples, breasts, or areolas that might affect feeding. I am here to reassure you that breastfeeding with inverted or flat nipples is possible!

The size of your breasts does not indicate whether or not you can make enough milk. The shape and size of your nipples also do not indicate whether or not your baby will be able to latch. Many babies can latch on to just about any nipple regardless of whether they are inverted. However, if your baby appears to be struggling a bit because of your nipple, there are some tricks that you can try to help your baby latch on.

Breastfeeding With Flat or Inverted Nipples

You can tell you have an inverted nipple by doing a “pinch” test. You gently press your areola (the area around your nipple) to see if it becomes erect. If it doesn’t, then you have a “flat” nipple. If it retracts (goes back) into the areola or makes a concave shape, then it’s inverted.1 But if your nipple pokes out during the pinch test, it’s not actually inverted.

Types of Inverted Nipples:

Firstly, let’s cover the different types of inverted or “flat” nipples.

Dimpled

A dimpled nipple is when your nipple is partially protruding. So it’s not completely flat or inverted, but it’s also not fully out. And when you pull it out, it does not stay out.

Unilateral

This is when one breast has an inverted or flat nipple.

Inverted

This is where the description gets a little more complex. You can have a “slight” inverted nipple, a “moderate” inverted nipple, or “severe” inversion. Unless your baby has issues with their suck or is premature and very sleepy or weak, most babies will have no trouble latching onto a slightly inverted nipple. If your nipple is moderately or severely inverted, your baby might have difficulty latching on.

Can I Prepare My Nipples for Breastfeeding?

So what to do if you’re pregnant and know you have an inverted or flat nipple? Basically nothing. There is an argument among healthcare professionals about whether or not “preparing” inverted nipples (trying to get them to stick out) is actually needed or beneficial. Hormones help make the mother’s nipples stick out naturally during pregnancy anyway. There is no good evidence available to support the concept that women need to prepare their nipples in any way. However, it’s always good to be prepared if your baby has trouble so you’re ready for any challenges!

How Can I Help My Baby Latch Onto My Nipples?

It’s always good to be over-prepared rather than under-prepared. Here are some things you can do when your baby arrives to help if they are having trouble. No matter what you try, seeking help from an IBCLC is ideal, especially if you are using a nipple shield or breast shell.

  • Make sure you are getting the deepest latch possible. Research shows that the “laid-back” breastfeeding position or baby-led self-attachment often leads to the best latch.2 Get into a semi-reclined position on the couch or your bed and put your baby on your chest with their mouth near your nipple.
  • Many articles and online resources suggest that women consider using a breast shell (not a shield, but a shell) before feeding to make their nipples protrude. However, research is mixed on this; some articles show no difference between outcomes between those who used them and those who didn’t.3
  • Use a breast pump or silicone pump to help bring your nipples out a bit right before your baby feeds.
  • Roll your nipple between your fingers before feeding. This can help protrude your nipple before feeding.
  • Push your areola back (with your thumb on top and three fingers on the bottom). This can help protrude your nipple before baby latching.
  • Use a nipple shield to help your baby latch. As an IBCLC, I would suggest someone do “all of the things” first and only use this as a last resort! This is because using a shield means you’d have to wean your baby from it, so it’s best to use this after you’ve tried the other suggestions first.

3 Tips for Getting the Best Latch

Here are some really important things to remember to put yourself in the best position possible for getting the great latch:

1. Hang Out Skin-To-Skin as Much as Possible 24/7

Skin-to-skin encourages frequent breastfeeds and allows you to pick up on early feeding cues, which can really help when trying to latch your baby on easily.

2. Try Baby-Led Self-Attachment

This is where you get into a laid-back position, put your baby on your chest right at your nipple, and let them self-attach. Research shows that this is a great way to start when you first try feeding your baby, and for many, it continues to be the best way to latch even as time goes on. This is because it allows your baby to hone into their instincts while you can also help them a bit and still support them if needed.

3. Seek Help as Soon as Possible if You’re Struggling!

If you have concerns about your baby’s latch, milk intake, or anything else, seek help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) as soon as possible.

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Meg Nagle RN, IBCLC
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Meg is the mother of three breastfed boys and lives with her husband and children in QLD, Australia. She is a Registered Nurse and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant… Read more

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