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Breast-Feeding - Common Problems

Breast problems

  • Breast and nipple changes. Many women notice differences in how their breasts look and feel during breast-feeding. Early changes (such as larger breasts) are related to the body's preparation for milk production. Other changes, such as a darker color and increased size of the areola (the dark circle around the nipple) and more prominent nipples, are sometimes permanent. Some women may have inverted nipples and may need help from a lactation consultant to get started with breast-feeding.
  • Sore or cracked nipplesSore or cracked nipples. You can help relieve the pain from sore or cracked nipples by rubbing a few drops of breast milk on the nipple and areola and letting it air dry. It may also help to apply pure lanolin cream on your nipples.
  • Engorged breasts. You may have painful breasts and flattened nipples, making it hard for a baby to latch on for feeding. Gently massage your breasts and express or pump some milk to soften your nipple and areola before breast-feeding. This will help your baby latch deeper onto your breast, past your nipple and onto your areola. Wearing a supportive, well-fitting bra also may help. Applying cold compresses to your breasts now and then after breast-feeding may reduce swelling and pain. For more information, see the topic Breast Engorgement.
  • Blocked milk ducts Blocked milk ducts. Blocked milk ducts may cause a painful lump in the breast. Untreated blocked milk ducts can lead to an infection, which will require a visit to your doctor. Massage the affected area toward the nipple before breast-feeding and during feeding. This simple measure can help release the milk plug. Also, this is one time you should always feed your baby on the affected side first. Your baby is usually more eager at the start of a feeding. The stronger sucking force helps empty the breast and unblock the duct.
  • Breast infections. These are treated with prescription medicines and home treatment. Infections that sometimes occur with breast-feeding include:
    • A yeast infection, which may affect you and your baby. The baby often has white patches in his or her mouth (thrush) or a diaper rash, while your nipples may be extremely sore. You may also experience stabbing pains in your breast, especially as you start to breast-feed and in between feedings. You and your baby must both be treated with medicine, such as nystatin, for a yeast infection.
    • Mastitis, which may cause a fever, flu-like symptoms, and pain in the breast with an inflamed, red, dimpled, or swollen area. An untreated infection may lead to an abscess, which can cause a firm, often painful mass in the breast. You may need to take an antibiotic medicine to treat the infection. For more information, see the topic Mastitis.

Most women can take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and ibuprofen (such as Advil) while breast-feeding to help relieve discomfort from some of these problems. But talk to your doctor before taking any medicine (prescription or nonprescription).

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