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How to Cope with Breastfeeding Challenges

Updated on April 6, 2007
Lela Davidson profile image

Lela Davidson is a mother and writer, passionate about healthcare and education for women and children.

Good breast care will make breastfeeding a better experience for you and your baby. When your breasts are not in good health, breastfeeding can be painful or impossible. These are some of the common challenges nursing mothers face.


Once the milk comes in but before it starts to flow, your breasts may feel hard and possibly huge. You will be aching, literally, to empty your breasts. If your breasts are not emptied, they may become engorged. This can be painful so avoid it by feeding your baby frequently. You may have to manually express some milk while you and your baby get the hang of breastfeeding. If you stop breastfeeding when your breasts are over full because it's uncomfortable, you're setting yourself up for a vicious cycle.

Even if you need to use a pump, get the milk out. Sometimes it's difficult for a newborn to latch onto an engorged breast. You need to get enough milk out to soften the nipple so that the baby can latch on. You can also put a hot water bottle or warm washcloth over your breasts or simply take a warm shower prior to breastfeeding. The heat often promotes the breasts to release some of the excess milk naturally, therefore softening the breast for your baby.

You can also try massaging your breasts (if it doesn't hurt too bad!) from the armpit toward the nipple to soften them. After breastfeeding, rinse the baby's saliva from nipple and allow it to dry completely. If you can, air dry or you can also use a hairdryer on a low setting. If breasts are still engorged, ice packs in between feedings can help to decrease swelling.

Ask your doctor before taking any treatments - usually none are necessary.


Mastitis is a bacterial infection in the breast caused by a clogged milk duct. It causes swelling and burning and usually occurs in one breast at a time. Mastitis can be extremely painful. It can also cause fever. It needs to be treated by a doctor, who will probably prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection. In addition you will need as much rest as possible (good luck!) and to keep up your strength by eating right.

It's suggested to continue breastfeeding if you have Mastitis as it's thought to speed the mother's recovery. The methods listed above to promote comfort when engorged can also be used for Mastitis.

Cracked Nipples

Cracked nipples are the worst. They seem to especially affect fair skinned women. This is one area where you need to be proactive. Do everything you can to protect your nipples before they crack and once they do, you need to heal them thoroughly. For my first child I tried to be a trooper and breastfeed through this very painful condition. On my second, I got smart and at the first sign of cracking, I rested that nipple. I used a pump, which is much gentler on the nipple than the baby is, until it healed.

Some women are able to avoid cracked nipples by altering the position the baby nurses in. My mother swore by lanolin cream. I rubbed that on for months before my first was born in an effort to "toughen them up", but it didn't work for me. If you have very soft skin or very small areolas (the circle around your nipple), you are at risk.

Prevention is the best policy. The best thing you can do is keep the nipple clean and dry. After breastfeeding, rinse the baby's saliva from nipple and allow it to dry completely. If you can, air dry or you can also use a hairdryer on a low setting. Most lotions and creams do little to help and they need to be washed off before breastfeeding again.

If the nipples crack, try placing a wet teabag on them for a couple of minutes and then letting them dry. Using fabric breast pad instead of plastic lined ones will keep the nipples dryer. There are even special breast pads now with ointment on them to help the nipples heal.

Yeast Infection

A yeast infection of the breast will be painful. These are often transmitted from the baby's mouth to the breast while nursing. You'll know you have it based on the telltale thick, whitish substance on your breast or in baby's mouth. In this case, your doctor may prescribe medicine for both you and your baby.

Once you get past the initial breastfeeding learning curve, it becomes the most natural thing in the world. Please post any additional ideas you have in the comments section below.

Common Sense Medical Disclaimer

Just in case you wonder, I'm not a doctor or any other kind of medical expert. I am just an experienced mother. Information contained in this article is intended as an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatment. It is not a substitute for a medical exam, nor does it replace the need for services provided by medical professionals. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any prescription or over the counter drugs (including any herbal medicines or supplements) or following any treatment or regimen. Only your doctor or pharmacist can provide you with advice on what is safe and effective for you.

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  • fifelady profile image

    fifelady 9 years ago from Sacramento

    Breastfeeding can be either hard for some and a piece of cake for others. When I had my fist child, it came so natural and it was so easy. After my second, is when the problems arose. I suffered from mastitis and cracked nipples. I got through it and continued on like a champ. Once I had my third, I had my heart set on breastfeeding for as long as possible. I did not make it past 6 weeks. I was in so much pain, and there was no end in sight. I always try and tell people that everyone is different and hang in there as long as you can, but do not feel guilty if you give up before you intended.

  • Judy Ann profile image

    Judy Ann 10 years ago from California

    Thank you for a great article! I had so many issues during breastfeeding and unfortunately, I breastfed for just 3 weeks (but was able to pump for 11 weeks). I almost left the hospital not knowing that I hadn't been producing and my son was actually not getting anything for almost 24 hours!!! I was heatbroken but was ecstatic when I finally let down. I'll be sure to remember your article when I get pregnant and give birth to my next child.

  • tibarra profile image

    tibarra 10 years ago

    I believe I expierenced every single one of these symthoms: Mastitis and cracked nipples.. (the wrose ever!)

    I have three children and never breastfeed until my third. I guess it came w/ maturity and responsablity... My son is 3 1/2 months old and I am in the process of drying up, but not by choice.

    The first month I breastfed it thought it was the very best thing I had ever dedcied in my life! Comfortable feeding, bonding, just a geat start. BUT when I returned to work I had to start storing milk and pumping more often. BOY this was a disaster. The flanges (the cups that go on your breast to pump milk) were too small and they rubbed my nipples raw. (I had no idea that this was the problem.) I didnt know what went wrong all I knew was that I was in so much pain now when we would have feedings. I was practically crying each time!! Got bigger flanges and started feeling a little better... never stopped feeding off the breast or ever gave any formula. Weeks later I then expirenced mastitis, feever, the worst pain ever!-- I then gradually slowed down the pumping and only feed at night... Now here it is 3 months later my son has decied he no longer wants the breast and pererrs the bottle. I never understood why he was getting so fussy at the breast, well when he started turning his head this was the sign for me to stop...

    I'm so really torn and upset and still wondering why he decied this. After all I went through and fought to continue breastfeeding one night he just decied, " I dont want mommy's breast anymore." Now I'm working on drying up and it has been so painful, but it if finally happening after three weeks...

    I encorage any mother to breastfeed and fight for what it's worth! Read and learn as much as you can or just ask for simple advice. Even though I had some bad expirences I still dont regret but will continue wondering why my little one decied to quit.