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Lanolin Allergy: When Nipple Pain Isn’t Normal

What is Lanolin?

Many women have no idea they have a lanolin allergy until they begin nursing.  Made from sheep’s wool, lanolin is a common ingredient in many lip balms and other beauty products.  It is also the main ingredient in most nipple creams.  Lanolin can cause a painful allergic reaction in some women when applied to sensitive areas, like nursing nipples.

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How do I know if I have a Lanolin Allergy?

There are many reasons that new moms experience nipple pain that are not a lanolin allergy.  Sometimes it’s just the initial “learning to nurse” pain.  Nipple pain could also be caused by thrush, a kind of yeast infection that is uncomfortable for both mom and baby.  Sometimes other problems may affect your whole breast but feel like nipple pain, like mastitis or clogged milk ducts.  In my own personal breastfeeding journey, I experienced all of these setbacks. But none of them compared to the lanolin allergy.  My reaction to the lanolin felt like the worst sunburn of my life, and in the most sensitive part of my body.  Anything touching my nipples set off major pain. Even at a glance, you could see that my nipples were not healthy.

My Experience with Lanolin

Hours after the birth of my sweet girl, my phenomenal postpartum nurse gave me a tube of lanolin cream.  She told me to keep it handy and to apply it after every nursing session.  Soon I was also pumping between feeds because of supply issues so I applied the cream then, too.  By the end of our second day, I was miserable and experiencing severe nipple pain.  My nipples were bright red and the skin of my breasts was broken out in little red spots.  I thought the nipple pain was normal and that it would get better as we got used to nursing.  I attributed the reaction on my skin to the friction of my pump. Also, I thought my skin would “toughen up” soon.  The nurse instructed me to use lots of lanolin cream, so I did.

At the pediatrician for our first check up a few days later, the lactation consultant took one look at me and told me I had a lanolin allergy and to switch to an all natural nipple cream, like Motherlove or Bamboobies.  The broken skin on my breasts quickly cleared up, and that provided some relief. But my nipples remained fire-engine red and incredibly painful.  After another quick consult, I dumped all the creams. Instead, I alternated coconut oil and olive oil after every nursing or pumping session.  She said it would clear up soon.

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Weeks later nothing had changed.  Even after removing the lanolin from my routine, my nipples were so busy nursing that they were never given the chance to heal.  Unwilling to stop nursing, I began grasping at straws.  I purchased a set of very expensive “silverettes“: tiny silver cups that fit over your nipples to protect them from friction (and make you look like a robot).  Then I saw my OBGYN who prescribed a very expensive compound cream.  I reached out to my community of moms hoping someone had had a similar experience and could provide some advice.  Eventually, I was out of ideas.

Sweet Relief

Finally, I wound up at a dermatologist.  She did a culture of my nipples to make sure that there wasn’t any kind of bacteria causing the reaction. Then she prescribed a very strong steroid cream.  With detailed instructions to be sure that this strong course of treatment wouldn’t harm me or baby, I went back home with yet another thing to try.  After less than a week, my nipples went from red to pink and began to hurt less.  In two weeks I felt back to normal.

My little girl was ten weeks old.  I look back on those first ten weeks together with very fond memories, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to erase the pain of my lanolin allergy from my memory.  If we are blessed with a second baby, I’ll keep the lanolin far, far away and stick to the natural stuff!

If you think you may be suffering from a lanolin allergy, your first step should be to put the lanolin away and then contact your board certified lactation consultant.

 

Have you ever experienced a lanolin allergy? How did you deal with it?

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