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Dealing with the Common Problems of Breastfeeding

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Updated June 03, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Common Problems, Breast Pain
A.D.A.M.

Problems with breastfeeding can be painful and distressing to a new mom and cause a baby to become fussy, and frustrated. Understanding the common problems that you may face while breastfeeding will prepare you to deal with them.

Sore/Cracked Nipples

It is normal to experience some soreness of the nipples during the first few weeks of breastfeeding. The discomfort should lessen as time goes on. If your nipples become cracked, blistered or painful, some adjustments may be necessary to correct the situation and heal your nipples.

  • Make sure your baby is latching on correctly.
  • Try a different breastfeeding position.
  • Gently break the suction from the latch with your finger before removing the baby from the breast.
  • Start feeding on the breast that is the least sore.
  • Apply warm, moist compresses to the nipples.
  • Rub freshly expressed breast milk on your nipples to help them heal.
  • If you have sore, cracked nipples that do not show signs of improvement within a few days, notify your healthcare provider. Any opening in the skin can allow an infection to enter your body. Painful, cracked nipples can lead to mastitis.

Engorgement

A few days after the birth of your baby, your breasts will become fuller as your milk comes in. If the breast fullness causes swollen, hard, painful breasts you are experiencing engorgement . This usually only lasts a few days as your body adjusts to the amount of milk your baby needs. Relieve engorgement by removing the milk from your breasts and treating your discomfort.

  • Nurse frequently, 8 - 12 times a day.
  • If the baby isn't nursing well or you still feel full after breastfeeding, use a breast pump to help fully empty the breast.
  • A proper latch and good positioning help the baby to breastfeed more efficiently and remove more milk.
  • Remove some milk before breastfeeding so the baby can latch better. It is more difficult to latch on to a hard, full breast.
  • Alternate warm and cold compresses.
  • Gently massage the breasts.
  • Allow warm water to run over your breasts in the shower.
  • Try using green cabbage leaves. Rinse and refrigerate the leaves, then apply them to your breasts for 15-20 minutes twice a day.

Blocked Milk Ducts

Breast milk flows through the breast via milk ducts. A blocked or plugged milk duct can occur if the milk gets stuck in the duct causing a small, hard, tender lump to form.

  • Nurse often, 8 -12 times a day.
  • Apply warm compresses.
  • Make sure you get enough rest.

Mastitis

Mastitis is swelling or inflammation of the breast tissue and often called a breast infection. It can be caused by engorgement, blocked milk ducts or an illness. Symptoms of mastitis include redness or tenderness of the breast, flu like symptoms, and/or a fever. If you believe you have developed mastitis, call your doctor.

  • Notify your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. You may need to take an antibiotic.
  • Continue to breastfeed.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Apply warm compresses.

Thrush

Thrush is a yeast infection that can occur on your nipples and in the baby's mouth. Symptoms of thrush can include breast pain, redness, and itchy nipples with or without a rash. It may also appear as white patches or areas of redness in the baby's mouth.

  • Notify your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. An antifungal medication may be necessary for you and the baby.
  • Clean and sterilize all pacifiers, bottles, toys and breast pump parts that come in contact with your breasts or the baby's mouth.
  • Good hand washing is very important to prevent spreading the infection.

Too Much Milk

An overabundant supply of milk can be a challenge. It could cause problems such as blocked milk ducts, engorgement and mastitis. The baby may gag and choke while feeding which can cause gassiness, fussiness, and spitting up.

  • Offer one breast per feeding and offer the same breast if the baby wants to nurse again within an hour.
  • Lay back during feedings so the baby is sucking against gravity to slow down the flow of the milk.
  • Burp the baby more often. A baby will often stop sucking when he needs to burp.

Most of the common complaints that you may experience with breastfeeding are manageable and temporary. Contact your health care provider or local breastfeeding specialist if the problems are not resolving or getting worse.

Sources:

Breastfeeding. La Leche League International. 2011.

Mohrbacher, Nancy, IBCLC, FILCA. Sore Nipples and Engorgement. Ameda. 2011.

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