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Disclaimer: The information in this post is for educational purposes only. I am not a doctor. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the opinions are meant to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. You should always consult your healthcare provider.

Myth Busters: Nipples Need to be “Toughened Up” Before Birth for Breastfeeding

It’s shocking to me to hear that doctors and well-meaning relatives still sometimes recommend doing specific things to toughen or rough up nipples before birth to prepare for breastfeeding!

Not only is that not evidence-based medical advice, it has potential to be harmful.

Myth Busters: Nipples need to be toughened up before birth for breastfeeding

Myth Busters: Nipples Need to be Toughened Up Before Birth for Breastfeeding

Your grandmother or mother may have told you that it’s best practice to rub your nipples with a wash cloth to get them used to the friction they will be experiencing. People sometimes suggest that it’s helpful for building up callouses. Or it might acclimate the sensitive tissue. However, nothing about breastfeeding is analogous to rubbing or scrubbing with cloth.

In reality, the tip of your nipple will end up near the back of baby’s mouth and the rest will mold to the shape of their palate. That’s not an abrasive or uncomfortable process if their latch is good, and it won’t cause cracks or callouses for most women. 

Nipple discomfort and injury is caused by several contributing factors including latch, positioning, tongue tie (inability of the baby to freely move tongue to create a good seal), and structural abnormalities in the baby’s mouth. If the mother has injured nipples (cracked, etc.), they could develop an infection. This would also contribute to pain.

Women experiencing nipple pain may want to consult a lactation professional for advice, but it’s true that many women experience pain in the early weeks even when no problem can be identified. “Roughening” your nipples before birth still wouldn’t be a preventative in those cases, and it may be difficult to identify existing issues like poor latch or sucking techniques if you are already uncomfortable from scrubbing!

Trying to “toughen up” nipples can cause a number of problems.

Rough handling of breasts before or after the birth of your baby may also have unintended negative consequences like:

  • Inducing contractions. Nipple stimulation is a technique to intensify labor. However, it is unlikely to start it from nothing if you have a normal pregnancy. Women who are at risk for pre-term labor should be careful for this reason.
  • Chafing can cause soreness and cracks in any sensitive skin areas, which is what we are trying to avoid!
  • Scrubbing the breasts with a rag – especially if you use soap – actually rubs away the body’s natural defenses against breast illness and injury! You have glands in your areola called Montgomery Glands that produce an oil designed to lubricate and protect your nipples. The scent of the oil may also aid your baby in finding you and latching well after birth.

So you shouldn’t to rub your nipples to “toughen” them before birth in preparation for nursing. Instead, what can you do?


Knowledge is truly your best preparation. Find a supportive group of friends to learn from, and read up on correct latch, etc. Check out our free ebook, The Breastfeeding Lifeline, for tips on the very early days of breastfeeding. And don’t miss the rest of this series on breastfeeding myths!

Anjanette Barr is wife to a librarian and mom of four living in Juneau, Alaska and loving the life God has blessed her with. Her days are filled with lots of silly antics and laughter, mountains of laundry, and more love than she could ever hope for or deserve. She blogs at Find her also on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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