Benefits of Breastfeeding
Science has proven that there are a host of benefits to breastfeeding babies. Breast milk contains all the vitamins and nutrients a developing infant needs during the first six months of life. It's also jam-packed with illness-fighting antibodies that neutralize bacteria and viruses, helping babies stay healthy and strong during the first critical months of their development. If a breastfed baby does get sick, the infant is less likely to develop a severe illness. As an added bonus, breastfed children enjoy long-term health benefits, too. They're less likely to develop allergies, certain childhood cancers, diabetes, high cholesterol, inflammatory bowel disease, and high blood pressure in adolescence and early adulthood.
Research suggests that breastfeeding may also have secondary benefits for nursed babies, like a lowered risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), increased intelligence, and protection from obesity as they grow. While these secondary benefits are still being confirmed, the chance that they're legitimate is added encouragement to breastfeed your baby. Plus, there are benefits for you if you choose to breastfeed. Nursing your baby can minimize your risk of developing postpartum depression, reduce stress, and help you bond with your infant. The latter two benefits for mom are attributable to the way a woman's body releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin during feedings; oxytocin promotes nurturing, relaxation, and uteran contraction, which reduces postpartum bleeding. There's also a theory that breastfeeding your child for the first year of its life will minimize your chances of developing breast or uteran cancer later in life.
With so many proven and potential benefits for you and your baby, you may be very keen to breastfeed your infant. But what's a mom to do if her nipples are pierced? Can you breastfeed with nipple piercings, or will you have to ditch your nipple rings if you want to nurse your baby? The answer, in short, is that breastfeeding with nipple piercings is absolutely possible.
Managing Your Nipple Piercings During Pregnancy
If you already have your nipples pierced when you get pregnant, you may find that you need longer barbells as your baby bump grows and your breasts begin to swell and fill with milk. Nipple rings that are too tight can put undue pressure on your nipples, and prolonged pressure can cause necrosis (tissue death), which can lead to infection. To avoid that issue, pick up straight or bent barbells in a few different lengths so you can replace your nipple rings with better-fitting jewelry as your breasts enlarge during your pregnancy. Using a threaded taper lubricated with a drop of a water-based lubricant like Astroglide will make it easier to replace your nipple rings by yourself. If you're unable to change your own jewelry, have your piercer replace your nipple rings for you periodically throughout your pregnancy.
Whether you change your jewelry yourself or have your piercer do it for you, it's best to have new jewelry sterilized before it's inserted into your nipple piercings. We can autoclave your nipple rings for you before shipping them to you if you add one of our "Sterilize My Jewelry" options to cart for each piece of jewelry you want us to sterilize. Alternatively, you can have your piercer autoclave your replacement nipple rings for you for a small fee that may be waved if you purchase your new jewelry from your piercer.
If you don't yet have your nipples pierced when you get pregnant, you should wait until after you've had your baby and finished breastfeeding before getting them pierced. It takes 12 months or more for nipple piercings to fully heal, so there wouldn't be enough time for new piercings to heal before your baby is born. Beginning breastfeeding with healing nipple piercings would be very uncomfortable and it would put you at higher risk for developing an infection. Wait a little while after you stop breastfeeding your baby to get your nipples pierced, so your breasts have time to return to their normal size. You'll likely find it rewarding to wait and get pierced later, since women often say that getting nipple piercings later in life helped return sensitivity to their nipples that they lost due to breastfeeding their children.
Breastfeeding With Nipple Piercings
After you give birth, you don't have to remove your nipple rings if you want to breastfeed your baby, but it may be more comfortable for you and easier for your baby to nurse if you remove your jewelry during feedings. If you don't want to risk having your nipple piercings close up while your jewelry is out, you could try switching to BioPlast straight barbells or dental-grade acrylic nipple piercing retainers temporarily instead of removing your jewelry. These simpler styles of jewelry made of softer materials are less likely to get in your baby's way or discourage it from suckling your pierced breasts than metal jewelry and flashier nipple rings adorned with dangles or charms. Some women opt to keep metal jewelry in their nipple piercings (see photo to right), but if you do that, you should wear close-fitting bent or straight barbells that hug your nipples closely without squeezing them. If your barbells are too long, they may get in your baby's way or be tugged uncomfortably when your infant is nursing.
Don't be alarmed if milk comes out of your fistulas (piercing holes) on the sides of your nipples as well as from the tips. This is a common concern for nursing mothers with nipple piercings, but it's a non-issue. In fact, it may make it easier for your infant to get a sufficient amount of milk during feedings, reducing the discomfort that can come with breastfeeding when babies have to suck hard to induce a steady flow of breast milk.
As your baby grows and begins to cut its first teeth, you may find it increasingly more uncomfortable to breastfeed with your nipple rings in. Don't let that deter you from continuing to breastfeed; remember that it's most beneficial for you and your baby if you nurse for a minimum of a year after your baby's born. Instead of switching to formula, you can either remove your nipple rings during feedings or pump and feed your baby breast milk from a bottle. If you want to continue wearing nipple rings while you breastfeed, then switch to soft, flexible BioPlast straight barbells if you haven't already done so.
Addressing Breastfeeding Problems
Some women have trouble getting their babies to latch onto their breasts even without nipple piercings, and nipple rings can pose an additional impediment for some. If your baby isn't latching quickly, there are a few things you can try to get your little one interested in nursing. First, take the edge off its hunger by bottle-feeding pumped breast milk for a few minutes. If either you or baby are frustrated or upset in any way, take time to calm down and relax. Rock your baby for a few minutes, and take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Let your heart rate slow while you cradle baby close to your chest; your little one will begin to relax, too, thanks to your comforting hold and the sound of your relaxed heart rate. Use a cross-cradle or modified football hold to cradle your baby and make it feel secure, and then offer your baby one of your breasts. If you've been pumping regularly when your infant won't take a breast, your milk flow should remain strong enough that your baby won't have to work so hard to get milk once it latches. If the tyke won't suckle after 10 minutes of trying, back off and offer a bottle of pumped breast milk for a few minutes instead. After your baby has drunk about a 1/2 ounce of bottle-fed milk, offer your breast again. If your little one still won't latch, or latches but doesn't drink, give it the rest of the bottled pumped milk.
A baby who's latching and drinking will open its mouth wide, pause, and then close its mouth after each drink. If your baby is latching but not drinking your milk, you can help using breast compressions. To do breast compressions, you'll need to hold your infant with one arm, and then use your opposite hand to gently pinch your nipple. Your thumb should be on the outside of your nipple, and your index finger should be pinching from the opposite side, closer to your chest wall. To get a good grasp, you may need to remove your nipple rings temporarily or try to pinch from behind your jewelry. Squeeze your nipple gently between your thumb and index finger while pushing your breast up and back slightly to express a steadier flow of milk. Watch your infant's mouth to see if it begins the open-wide-pause-close motion that indicates it's actually drinking. If your baby won't drink after continued attempts, offer a bottle of pumped breast milk for a few minutes, and then try again.
It's important to note that babies who don't latch well can only get milk when there's a rapid flow. If your baby isn't latching properly, you may suffer from sorer nipples, a colicky baby, or a baby who wants to breastfeed constantly. If your milk flow is too slow because your baby isn't latching and suckling well, your little one is likely to fall asleep at your breast during the first 4-6 weeks of its life. Falling asleep at your breast isn't a sign that your infant has had enough to eat or that it's lazy, so persist and use breast compressions or bottled pumped milk as needed to ensure that your infant gets enough to eat. Once your baby is older than 6 weeks, you may see it start to pull away from your breast when your milk flow slows. Again, that doesn't mean your little one has fed sufficiently, so work to improve your flow or offer a bottle as needed.
If you try the tips above with your nipple rings in and you still can't get your little one to latch, remove your jewelry and try again. Once you get into a good rhythm with feedings, you can try nursing your baby with close-fitting BioPlast straight barbells inserted in your nipple piercings. If you find that your jewelry deters your baby from nursing, you'll just have to remove it during feedings unless you want to exclusively bottle feed your baby. If you have trouble re-inserting your jewelry after a feeding, use a threaded taper to ease the barbells through your fistulas more smoothly. When also using a water-based lubricant to get your nipple rings back in, make sure you wash your nipples thoroughly before attempting to breastfeed again. Use a gentle soap and warm water, followed by a sea salt-based piercing aftercare spray like Recovery purified saline wash.
Soothing Irritated Nipples
Women who breastfeed often suffer from sore nipples, dry skin and other irritations, particularly if they have nipple piercings and breastfeed. If your nipples become irritated, start soaking them in sea salt solution enhanced with tea tree oil twice a day. Tea tree oil is a natural moisturizer and antiseptic that will soothe and nourish the skin around your nipples when combined with healing sea salt solution. You can either saturate cotton balls with saline piercing aftercare spray and add a drop of tea tree oil to each one before applying it to your nipple, or you can make a cup of homemade sea salt solution and add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil before soaking your nipples directly in the solution.
To make homemade sea salt solution, you'll need a quality sea salt, like our Recovery Sea Salt From the Dead Sea, sterile water (which you can make by boiling tap water for 5 minutes), and tea tree oil. Measure out one cup of sterile water, and stir in 1/4 teaspoon sea salt along with 2-3 drops of tea tree oil. If you boiled the water to sterilize it, let it cool to a comfortable temperature. You can then fill a shot glass or other small container, lean over, push the glass to your breast so it encompasses your nipple, hold it securely in place, and sit upright again to allow the solution to fully saturate your nipple. Hold the cup in place for 5 minutes, empty it, rinse the glass, refill it with fresh sea salt solution, and repeat the process to treat your other nipple. After a few days of twice-a-day soaks, your nipples should be noticeably softer and less irritated.
Support for Pierced Breastfeeding Moms
The subject of breastfeeding with nipple piercings occasionally comes up in our online forum, where our knowledgeable moderators and community members come together to share their experiences and discuss piercing problems and potential solutions. If you have concerns about breastfeeding with nipple piercings or encounter problems once you start nursing, reach out to our online community. Just create an account, log in, and post your questions or concerns. You'll find that our online community members are quick to respond and provide support, helpful tips and guidance on a range of piercing issues, including breastfeeding with nipple piercings.
For more information about nipple piercings and breastfeeding, check out the online resources below.