Common Physical Problems of Breastfeeding

The decision to breastfeed is a personal matter. Moms who choose (or are able) to breastfeed find it a beautiful bonding act between mother and baby. However, it can take quite a physical toll on a mom.

Vicki Scott, Baby Feeding and Wellbeing Advisor at Philips AVENT gives us some vital information on some of the most common physical problems of breastfeeding.

Sore nipples – the most common reason for sore nipples when breastfeeding is poor feeding technique.


Tip – prepare for successful breastfeeding by learning what to expect and how to do it! Attend a class if possible during pregnancy. Don’t wait for things to get better on their own. Ask for help from a skilled professional in the first few days if you need it.

Correcting poor technique should have an immediate effect on the comfort of breastfeeding. This will nearly always solve the problem, but it can take a while for sore nipples to heal. Squeeze out a drop of breast milk onto the nipple area after the feed, as this promotes healing and reduces risk of infection. Nipple cream may be soothing after feeds.

Wash the breasts no more than twice a day.

Breast shells can be helpful in allowing air to circulate and relieves pressure from clothing.

Thrush (Candidiasis) – a fungal infection which can develop after a period of problem-free feeding. The main symptom is sore pink nipples.

Tip – if your nipples suddenly become sore and maybe itchy, or if your baby’s feeding behaviour changes and you see white patches in his mouth then, one or both of you may have thrush. It’s important that you both get treatment quickly if that’s the case, to stop this painful condition from worsening – see your GP for this, and also ask someone to check your feeding technique.

Mastitis – inflammation of the breast – the main symptom is a red patch on the breast which may or may not feel hard, hot and tender.

Tip – mastitis can be resolved by frequent feeding/emptying the breast effectively. Don’t stop breastfeeding! Get help from your GP or breastfeeding professional to find out why it has developed and to get the correct treatment. If not resolved mastitis can become infected which will need antibiotic treatment. A raised temperature and flu-like shivery feelings are a sign of infection. Breastfeeding does not need to stop.


Tongue Tie – some babies have a tight piece of skin under their tongue which prevents them from sticking out their tongue and affects breastfeeding in some cases.

Tip – ask a health professional to check if you think your baby may have a tongue tie which is affecting breastfeeding. Many babies with tongue tie manage to breastfeed well, but others need to have the condition treated. Treatment is simple and can make a huge difference to breastfeeding comfort and efficiency.

Blocked Ducts – an obstruction in the ducts of the breast, usually caused by a plug of fatty milk, or compression of the ducts through swelling.

Tip – blocked ducts may be felt as a small hard lump, or as a more generalized area of hard, lumpy tissue which may feel tender. Continue to breastfeed but gently massage over the lumpy area as you do so. Warm compresses before feeding can help as well as a gentle massage. Unresolved blockages can lead to mastitis so get this checked out as soon as you can.

Blocked ducts can be caused by compression on the breast, such as from a bra wire or by a mom holding the breast and digging her fingers in during the feed. Try not to obstruct the flow of milk through the ducts to prevent this happening.

Low milk supply – a common concern which most new moms will feel at some time.

Tip – nearly all women have the ability to produce enough milk to feed their babies fully, as long as their technique is good and there is adequate stimulation.

It is normal for your baby to go through periods of a few days where he seems extra hungry and wants to feed more frequently and for longer. During these growth spurts it is important that you allow him to do this so that the extra demand is able to increase your supply. It can take a few days for this to happen. Your baby asks for extra milk to be made and your body delivers after a day or more! The best way to make more milk is to stimulate more.


A good way of boosting your supply is to express your breasts after some feeds for a few days. Sometimes milk supply is low because the baby is not attached to the breast well. In this case, feeds often take a long time. You may need help to improve your technique.

Have a look at some of our other articles about breastfeeding.

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