Problems and discomforts when breastfeeding

You want breastfeeding to be a calm, quiet time for you and your baby. But you may have some problems or discomforts when breastfeeding. Don’t let them get you down! They're common for breastfeeding moms. And there are things you can do to help you feel better and make breastfeeding more comfortable.

If you have questions or need help with breastfeeding, tell your health care provider or a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant is a person with special training and education in helping women breastfeed.

What can you do if you're sore after having a c-section?

A c-section (also called cesarean birth) is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus (womb). You may be sore and tired after a c-section, but you can still breastfeed. Here’s what you can do:

  • Use the side-lying and football holds for your baby when you breastfeed. Check out our breastfeeding feature to learn about ways to hold your baby during breastfeeding.
  • Keep your baby with you in your hospital room so you don’t have to move around a lot to get her.
  • Only take pain medicine that your health care provider gives you. She can make sure it’s safe for your baby during breastfeeding.

What is breast engorgement?

This is when your breasts become swollen and full of milk. They may feel tender and sore. Most of the time the discomfort goes away once you start breastfeeding regularly. Here are some ways to help with engorgement:

  • Try not to miss or go a long time between feedings. Don’t skip night feedings.
  • Express a small amount of milk with a breast pump or by hand before breastfeeding.
  • Take a warm shower or put warm towels on your breasts. If your engorgement is really painful, put cold packs on your breasts.
  • Tell your provider if your breasts stay swollen.

What can you do about nipple pain?

Many women feel nipple pain when they first start breastfeeding. If your nipples are cracked and sore, you may need to change the position you use to breastfeed. If you have nipple pain:

  • Make sure your baby is fully latched on. This means your baby's mouth is securely attached to the area around your nipple for breastfeeding. If she’s not latched on, remove her from your breast and try again.
  • After feeding, put some fresh breast milk on your nipples. Just like breast milk is good for your baby, it can help you, too. Or some creams can help. Ask your provider which kind to use.
  • Talk to your provider or lactation consultant if the pain doesn't go away.

What can you do if your breasts leak?

Your breasts may leak milk, especially right after birth. This is common and doesn't hurt you or your baby. Here’s how to handle leaking breasts:

  • Try not to miss feedings or go a long time between feedings. Don’t skip night feedings.
  • Apply pressure to your breasts by crossing your arms over your chest.
  • Use manual expression to remove milk from your breasts. Manual expression is when you massage your breasts with your hands to release breast milk. Ask your lactation consultant to show you how to manually express your breast milk.
  • Put nursing pads in your bra to soak up leaked milk. Sleep in a nursing bra in case you have leakage at night.

What are plugged ducts?

Breast milk can get blocked in your breast ducts. Your breast may feel sore or look red. You may feel a hard spot in your breast. You may feel that your breast doesn't empty when breastfeeding. Here’s what you can do to help with plugged ducts:

  • Take a warm shower or put warm towels on your breast.
  • Start each feeding on the sore breast. This may be uncomfortable, but it’s important to keep using the breast to unclog the duct.
  • Massage the hard spot while your baby breastfeeds.
  • Try manual expression to release milk from your breasts.
  • Drink plenty of fluid.
  • Don’t wear a bra that fits too tight or that has an underwire.
  • Tell your provider if you develop a fever, chills, aches or pains. These could be signs of a breast infection.

What is mastitis?

Mastitis is a breast infection. It can happen when you have a plugged duct, you miss or delay breastfeedings or if your breasts become engorged. You may feel a tender or painful hard spot in your breast that’s warm to the touch. The area may be red. You may have a fever, chills, aches or pain. Here’s what you can to if you have a breast infection:

  • Don’t stop nursing your baby even if your breast is sore. The infection doesn't harm the baby. Breastfeeding more often can help clear the infection.
  • Take a warm shower or put warm towels on your breast.
  • Call your provider. You may need an antibiotic. This is medicine used to treat an infection.
  • Drink plenty of fluid.
  • Don’t wear a bra that fits too tight or a bra with an underwire.

What is nipple confusion?

Nipple confusion can happen if you give your baby a bottle or pacifier in the first few weeks of breastfeeding. He may forget how to latch on to your breast. Or he may not want to breastfeed at all. If this happens, you baby may not get all the breast milk he needs. And your breasts may become engorged. To help prevent nipple confusion:

  • Only breastfeed your baby in the first few weeks after birth. Don't use bottles or pacifiers until your baby's breastfeeding well. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that if you're breastfeeding, wait until your baby is 1 month old before using a pacifier.
  • Tell your provider or lactation consultant if you think your baby has nipple confusion.

More information

    Last reviewed: June, 2014