Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

What Are Some Common Challenges With Breastfeeding?

  • Sore nipples. You can expect some soreness in the first weeks of breastfeeding. Make sure your baby latches on correctly, and use one finger to break the suction of your baby's mouth after each feeding. That will help prevent sore nipples. If you still get sore, be sure you nurse with each breast fully enough to empty the milk ducts. If you don't, your breasts can become engorged, swollen, and painful. Holding ice or a bag of frozen peas against sore nipples can temporarily ease discomfort. Keeping your nipples dry and letting them "air dry" between feedings helps, too. Your baby tends to suck more actively at the start. So begin feedings with the less-sore nipple.
  • Dry, cracked nipples. Avoid soaps, perfumed creams, or lotions with alcohol in them, which can make nipples even more dry and cracked. You can gently apply pure lanolin to your nipples after a feeding, but be sure you gently wash the lanolin off before breastfeeding again. Changing your bra pads often will help your nipples stay dry. And you should use only cotton bra pads.
  • Worries about producing enough milk.  A general rule of thumb is that a baby who's wetting six to eight diapers a day is most likely getting enough milk. Avoid supplementing your breast milk with formula, and never give your infant plain water. Your body needs the frequent, regular demand of your baby's nursing to keep producing milk. Some women mistakenly think they can't breastfeed if they have small breasts. But small-breasted women can make milk just as well as large-breasted women. Good nutrition, plenty of rest, and staying well hydrated all help, too.
  • Pumping and storing milk. You can get breast milk by hand or pump it with a breast pump. It may take a few days or weeks for your baby to get used to breast milk in a bottle. So begin practicing early if you're going back to work. Breast milk can be safely used within 2 days if it's stored in a refrigerator. You can freeze breast milk for up to 6 months. Don't warm up or thaw frozen breast milk in a microwave. That will destroy some of its immune-boosting qualities. Thaw in the refrigerator or in a bowl of warm water.
  • Inverted nipples. An inverted nipple doesn't poke forward when you pinch the areola, the dark skin around the nipple. A lactation consultant -- a specialist in breastfeeding education -- can give simple tips that have allowed women with inverted nipples to breastfeed successfully.
  • Breast engorgement. Breast fullness is natural and healthy. It happens as your breasts become full of milk, staying soft and pliable. But breast engorgement means the blood vessels in your breast have become congested. This traps fluid in your breasts and makes them feel hard, painful, and swollen. Alternate heat and cold, for instance using ice packs and hot showers, to relieve mild symptoms. It can also help to release your milk by hand or use a breast pump.
  • Blocked ducts. A single sore spot on your breast, which may be red and hot, can signal a plugged milk duct. This can often be relieved by warm compresses and gentle massage over the area to release the blockage. More frequent nursing can also help.
  • Breast infection (mastitis). This occasionally results when bacteria enter the breast, often through a cracked nipple after breastfeeding. If you have a sore area on your breast along with flu-like symptoms, fever, and fatigue, call your doctor. Antibiotics are usually needed to clear up a breast infection, but you can most likely continue to breastfeed while you have the infection and take antibiotics. To relieve breast tenderness, apply moist heat to the sore area four times a day for 15 to 20 minutes each time.
  • Stress. Being overly anxious or stressed can interfere with your let-down reflex. That's your body's natural release of milk into the milk ducts. It's triggered by hormones released when your baby nurses. It can also be triggered just by hearing your baby cry or thinking about your baby. Stay as relaxed and calm as possible before and during nursing -- it can help your milk let down and flow more easily. That, in turn, can help calm and relax your infant.
  • Premature babies may not be able to breastfeed right away. In some cases, mothers can release breast milk and feed it through a bottle or feeding tube.
  • Warning signs. Breastfeeding is a natural, healthy process. But call your doctor if:
  • Your breasts become unusually red, swollen, hard, or sore.
  • You have unusual discharge or bleeding from your nipples.
  • You're concerned your baby isn't gaining weight or getting enough milk.

Where Can I Get Help With Breastfeeding?

Images of mothers breastfeeding their babies make it look simple -- but most women need some help and coaching. It can come from a nurse, doctor, family member, or friend, and it helps mothers get over possible  bumps in the road.

Reach out to friends, family, and your doctor with any questions you may have. Most likely, the women in your life have had those same questions.