Find the relief you need when nursing problems arise

Breastfeeding can be a comfortable and relaxing bonding experience when everything goes well. Unfortunately, it sometimes doesn’t. Initially, you might feel physical pain or discomfort when you nurse, which can make breastfeeding difficult or temporarily impossible.

The following is an overview of some breastfeeding problems and possible solutions. But if you are continuously having nursing problems or experience a difficulty not covered here, contact your healthcare provider.

Some common reasons why breastfeeding may become difficult:

Nipple soreness

Breastfeeding is easiest when both you and your baby are comfortable. It is common to have some pain or discomfort when your baby first latches on and begins feeding. For many women, nipple soreness can be caused by:

  • Feeding technique
  • Poor nipple care
  • Teething baby
  • Breastfeeding position

Your teething baby may bite and chew your nipples to find relief. Giving your baby something cold and wet to chew on a few minutes before breastfeeding may help, such as a clean, wet washcloth from the refrigerator.

If your baby continues to suck when coming off the breast, you can help her learn to release (and reduce your discomfort) by gently inserting a finger into the side of her mouth to break the suction.

Trying different breastfeeding positions also can help relieve pain. Learn more by visiting our Breastfeeding Positions guide.

Engorged or "full" breasts

Engorgement is caused by swelling congestion of the blood vessels in the breast, and the arrival of milk, which can cause the breasts to become swollen, hard, and painful. The nipples cannot protrude to allow the baby to latch on correctly, perpetuating the problem and making nursing even more difficult.

Pain, stress, and anxiety can interfere with the letdown reflex, resulting in milk buildup. The treatment for breast engorgement includes:

  • Learning to relax and finding a comfortable position
  • Nursing often (eight times or more in 24 hours) and for at least 15 minutes at each feeding
  • Expressing milk manually or with a pump
  • Alternating between taking warm showers and using cold compresses to help relieve the discomfort

Breast milk shortage

Your baby's demand and your body’s natural ability to produce will determine your supply. Frequent feedings, adequate rest, good nutrition, and sufficient fluid intake can help maintain a consistent feeding ability. If you have concerns about how much breast milk your baby is getting, talk with your healthcare provider.

Plugged milk duct

Plugged milk ducts are common. A milk duct can become plugged if the baby does not feed well, if the mother skips feedings (common when the child is weaning), or if she is wearing a constricting bra. Symptoms of a plugged milk duct include:

  • Tenderness
  • Heat and redness in one area
  • A lump that can be felt close to the skin

Sometimes, a tiny white dot can be seen at the opening of the duct on the nipple. Massaging the area and putting gentle pressure on it can help to remove the plug. Get extra sleep or relax. Sometimes a plugged duct is the first sign of a mother who is doing too much.

Breast infection

A breast infection (mastitis) causes aching muscles, fever, and a red, hot, tender area on one breast. Consult your healthcare provider if you develop these symptoms. Continuing to nurse from the affected breast will promote healing, and does not harm your baby. If nursing becomes too uncomfortable, pumping or manual expression is recommended.