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Overhead view of baby nursing at mother's breast.

Common baby nursing problems and solutions

A guide for moms who breastfeed

Find the relief you need when nursing problems arise

Breastfeeding your baby can be a comfortable and relaxing experience when everything goes well. Unfortunately, you might feel physical pain or discomfort when you nurse, which can make breastfeeding difficult or temporarily impossible.

The following is an overview of possible baby nursing problems and solutions. However, if you are continuously having nursing problems, or are experiencing a difficulty that is not talked about here, you should contact your health care provider.

Here are common reasons why mothers are unable to breastfeed:

  • Nipple soreness
  • Engorged or "full" breasts
  • Breast milk shortage
  • Plugged milk duct
  • Breast infection




Nipple soreness

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
  • Breastfeeding position
  • Poor nipple care
  • Teething baby

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. Breastfeeding is easiest when both you and your baby are comfortable. Learn more by visiting our Breastfeeding Positions guide.

Your teething baby also might find relief by biting and chewing your nipples. Give your baby something cold and wet to chew on a few minutes before breastfeeding, such as a clean, wet washcloth from the refrigerator.





Engorged or "full" breasts

Breast engorgement is caused by congestion of the blood vessels in the breast, which then become swollen, hard, and painful. The nipples cannot protrude to allow the baby to latch on correctly, making nursing 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
  • Reducing distractions during nursing, performing a gentle massage, and applying heat to the breast
  • 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 milk demand and your body’s natural ability to produce breast milk will determine your supply. Frequent feedings, adequate rest, good nutrition, and adequate 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 health care provider.





Plugged milk duct

It is common to have a plugged milk duct. 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 health care 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.

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