Can you breastfeed with flat or inverted nipples?

Breastfeeding with flat nipples is possible, but it can be frustrating.

Moms often wonder if their breasts are the right size or shape for breastfeeding. I’ve got a friend with small breasts who was worried about whether she would be able to produce enough milk. Her lactation consultant reassured her that breast size does not determine milk quantity (or quality) and that she had “perfect nipples for breastfeeding.” Who knew that was a thing? Friends with larger breasts have worried that their nipples were too flat for breastfeeding, but lo and behold, babies usually figure it out given a few days of experimentation.

Nipples come in every shape and size imaginable. It’s true that some make breastfeeding easier and others, like flat or inverted nipples, may create some special challenges for nursing moms and their babies just getting the hang of breastfeeding. However, most women can breastfeed successfully regardless of nipple shape.

Self-check your nipple protrusion.

Truly inverted nipples will flatten or retract into your breast when stimulated. You can check your nipple protrusion (or retraction) by squeezing gently on the edges of your areola with your thumb and forefinger. If your nipple stiffens and protrudes, your baby should be able to nurse successfully. If your nipple retracts, it may take a little extra time and effort to help baby latch onto your breasts, but it’s still doable in most cases.

Share your concerns with a lactation consultant.

Stress is an even bigger obstacle to successful breastfeeding than nipple shape, and worrying about your nipple shape is just another stressor. Most health insurance plans, including TRICARE, provide new mothers with at least some access to a lactation consultant. Take advantage of this resource. An expert will be able to put your mind at ease and reassure you that your baby is getting sufficient breast milk. If your nipples are flat or inverted, a lactation consultant will be able to give you specific advice tailored to your unique breastfeeding circumstances.

Hand express before breastfeeding.

When your breast is engorged with milk, it may become hard, and your nipple may flatten as a result. Hand-expressing or massaging your breast before nursing sessions softens your breast. This makes it easier for baby to latch on.

Try the Hoffman exercise to stimulate a flat or inverted nipple.

The Hoffman exercise is a technique created specifically to help women with breast abnormalities such as long, short, flat, inverted, and cracked nipples breastfeed. A 2020 study found that the method was a successful intervention for mothers who were struggling with nursing as a result of breast abnormalities. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Place the thumbs of both hands opposite to each other at the base of the nipple.
  2. Pull the thumbs away from each other gently but firmly, both up and down and sideways.
  3. Repeat up to five times a day.

The Hoffman exercise can be done during pregnancy to prepare the nipples, and it can be used throughout breastfeeding, offering mothers a safe, simple and painless treatment for flat or inverted nipples.

Use a breast pump to help draw out a flat or inverted nipple.

If hand expressing and the Hoffman exercise are not quite enough to draw out your flat or inverted nipples, the suction from a breast pump may do the trick. Use your breast pump for a minute or two before breastfeeding to prime your nipple and draw it out for baby.

Breast pumps are covered by most health insurance plans.

A breast pump can be a lifesaver for a mom with flat or inverted nipples. It can help to draw out your nipple, and if you decide that breastfeeding is not for you, you can still give your baby most of the health advantages by pumping. Not sure which breast pump would give you the greatest advantage? At Milk N Mamas Baby, we’ve all experienced the challenges and the joys of breastfeeding and pumping. We’re experts at the benefits provided by each of our breast pumps. Feel free to reach out to us with your concerns if you’d like advice on choosing a breast pump that will help with flat or inverted nipples.