First I would like to recommend good 'ole Breastmilk for nipple care. You can rub a little breastmilk on the nipples and allow them to air dry. For many women this is all they need for normal nipple care.
Also, remember that you DO NOT need to use any soap on your nipples! This will only increase dryness and decrease your own natural and protective oils.
As for some other commonly used natural products...
While scouring the internet I found some mothers wondering and discussing about thrush and lanolin use. It seems as though lanolin may increase the incidence of thrush, OR, if you have thrush (or the baby) don't use it because it may sustain the infection. Lanolin doesn't have anti-bacterial/fungal properties (like coconut oil) so this may be why infection occurs; mothers may not always have clean hands when applying nipple cream and bacteria could be introduced. This is one of the most commonly used nipple creams and is handed out by many hospitals and lactation consultants, but personally I think the plant based alternatives may be better and I found this report from Medline Plus for lanolin poisoning (which is not likely, but obviously possible).
As for coconut oil, this stuff is AMAZING!!! A plant based oil with antifungal, antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, SPF(5), and moisturizing properties and it can be safely used on or consumed by almost anyone (allergic reactions are rare, if they do occur they are often mild). Some critics remind that this is still a saturated fat and consumption needs to be limited, however others herald the incredible plethora of health benefits... here are a few articles that give more information on some little known uses for coconut oil, as well as an excellent summary of the history, uses, and research findings for this increasingly popular nut. Can also be used on babies as a diaper cream! This is my personal choice for best cream because if you find that you need a cream (breastmilk isn't quite enough), then you may need the bacteria and fungal fighting properties that coconut oil provides.
Finally, shea butter. From the nut of the Shea Tree, found in Africa, shea butter is a highly nourishing moisturizer which can be used for a great variety of skin and hair related issues; as well as for cooking and baking. There are a number of vitamins, minerals, and other excellent compounds found in shea butter, it has an SPF of 6 and it appears to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties as well. Seeing as how it comes from a nut, some people with nut allergies may experience a minor reaction. Seems like an excellent moisturizer and prevention/treatment for stretch marks!
SO, to answer the original inquiry about which may be best to use as a nipple cream. Personally, I would not use lanolin because there are two alternatives that are plant based rather than animal based (however if someone has a nut allergy or a history of nut allergy then perhaps lanolin can be an alternative).
Breastmilk is my first choice of "nipple creams", but based on what I've learned in creating this post I think I will have both coconut oil and shea butter to use for any skin care need that arises! If you need something that helps manage bacteria or fungal issues such as yeast, then use coconut oil, for extra moisture you can use shea butter - The best of both worlds! I am definitely going to use shea butter to help prevent and treat my future stretch marks! :)
Please share your experience with any of the above OR other creams in the comments below :)
Also, I always recommend buying products that are pure, organic, and sustainably produced. Shea butter comes from Africa, so please buy from a company that supports this continent and the incredible people that live there!
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are having breastfeeding issues or PAIN while nursing then please contact a lactation consultant in your area or your local La Leche League and they can help! Breastfeeding should not be painful!
This IS NOT medical advice. Talk to your doctor, midwife, herbalist, nutritionist, or other health provider if you have questions or concerns.
~Wisdom and Birth