Common Breastfeeding Problems, the Causes, and Treatment

Breastfeeding isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally. For many mothers, it can be a struggle as they deal with common breastfeeding problems such as blocked ducts, nipple soreness, milk production, and more.

But don’t feel like you’re alone in these issues. If anything, the abundance of lactation consultants should prove that it’s something that many women deal with. In fact, in one study by researchers at UC Davis Medical Center, 92 percent of new mothers said they were having problems breastfeeding.

When beginning to breastfeed, being educated on common breastfeeding problems, what causes them, and how to treat them, can help to make breastfeeding more comfortable for both you and baby.

Common Breastfeeding Problems

Blocked Ducts: Blocked ducts can result from tight bras, pressure on the breasts, stomach sleeping, and even tight seatbelts. It also can come from going too long between nursing. In this scenario, the milk builds up and creates a painful mass.

Treatment: Place a warm cloth on your breasts. Nurse the baby if you can. Massage your breasts while nursing to help the milk flow.

Breast Lumps: As the hormones in your body change, you may experience lumps in your breasts. If the lump is painful, you may have a blocked duct. If the lump is hard and doesn’t go away after a few days to a week, consult your OB.

Engorgement: If your breasts get too full, they may become engorged. You’ll know this is happening because your breasts will be very hard and sore.

Treatment: Treat similar to blocked ducts. Take a warm shower or place a warm washcloth on your breasts, then nurse. You can also use ice packs between sessions to reduce swelling.

Leaky Breasts: Breasts can leak, especially in the first six weeks, when something stimulates the let-down reflex. That could be hearing a baby cry, lying on your stomach, or leaking from one breast while you’re feeding baby from the other.

Treatment: Leaky breasts should subside after about the first six weeks, but until then, you can use nursing pads in your bra, or, if the milk leaking is heavier, consider milk collection shells so you don’t waste a drop.

Low Milk Supply: Many things can lead to low milk supply, so don’t feel like you aren’t good enough! Certain medications, infrequent feedings, medical conditions, and diet all can affect milk supply. If your baby wants to suckle constantly and isn’t gaining weight, the little one may not be getting enough to eat.

Treatment: Eat a reasonable diet. Make sure you’re getting enough water. Nurse more frequently when baby wants it, but first, check with a lactation consultant or your pediatrician to make sure the latch is correct. You can also give the baby both breasts during feeding.

Mastitis: Signs of mastitis include a hot, red area that is tender; aching joints; feeling hot and cold; or having a fever over 101 degrees. It can be caused by a blocked milk duct, bacteria, wearing clothes that are too tight, oversupply, weaning your baby too quickly, poor attachment, and more.

Treatment: Mastitis must be treated quickly, so you should consult your OB if you think you have it. You can take a pain reliever like paracetamol or ibuprofen (not aspirin). Breastfeed or pump frequently. Offer your baby the affected breast first. Above all, talk to your OB.

Milk Blisters or Blebs: Milk ducts can become blocked with thickened milk or if a skin layer grows over it. This typically appears as a tiny white or yellow spot on the nipple tip. It can occasionally cause localized pain and can persist for a few days or weeks until the skin breaks.

Treatment: Keep breastfeeding or pumping to try to loosen the blockage. If you see a milk plug protruding, try to pull it out with clean fingers. Try to push it out by hand before feeding. Contact your OB if the problem persists.

Milk Oversupply: The opposite of having a low supply of milk, an oversupply means you’re producing more milk than your baby needs or that the let-down during feeding is surging too hard. Most of the time this occurs within the first six weeks of your milk coming in, but it can go on longer. This can affect your baby during feedings, with baby experiencing coughing or sputtering, spitting up, or an upset stomach and frothy poo.

Treatment: Express a small amount of milk before feeding to stimulate let-down and reduce the amount of milk. Try the laid-back or cradle position. Use a milk collection shell or a breast pump to collect some milk ahead of feeding.

Nipple Soreness: Nipples can get dry, cracked, and sore when breastfeeding. They may even bleed if they aren’t cared for properly.

Treatment: Use lanolin or olive oil on your nipples (though do not use lanolin for longer than a week). You can also soak your breasts in warm salt water or just dip your nipple in for a few minutes at a time.



If you’re having any of the above issues, be sure to discuss them with your doctor, especially if the problem persists.

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