Common Breastfeeding Challenges

Just when you thought you and your baby had gotten the hang of breastfeeding, it starts hurt. When this happens, something is wrong. Breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed your baby, but it does include its fair share of challenges, even after nursing is established. And new moms are often so busy taking care of baby that they neglect themselves. If you experience pain when nursing, consider the following fixes to common breastfeeding challenges.

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Thrush is a pesky overgrowth of candida yeast in your baby’s mouth that often appears as a whitish film on the tongue and inside of the cheeks. Thrush isn’t harmful, but it’s persistent and becomes a breastfeeding challenge when baby passes the infection to mom’s nipples. When mom gets it, her nipples will be sore and red and she’ll experience deep, shooting pains during and after breastfeeding.

“The discomfort is the hardest thing to deal with,” says Carol Redmon, RN, the breastfeeding educator at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. “I usually recommend using baby Anbesol on the nipples to relieve the pain.”

In addition to pain relief, both mom and baby will need to be treated for thrush at the same time. Your child’s pediatrician will probably prescribe an oral anti-fungal treatment, such as nystatin. Mom will need to use an anti-fungal cream after nursing.

Clogged Milk Duct

Clogged ducts occur when milk flow is obstructed and the breast can’t be drained properly. Engorgement, a tight fitting or improperly fitting bra, or pressure on the breast can cause blocked ducts, and sometimes it happens for no apparent reason at all. The area with the clog may feel hard, hot, or sore, and nursing on the affected side may hurt. To ease this painful problem, mom can use a warm compress or take a hot shower and gently massage the affected area with a large-toothed comb or hairbrush. Positioning the baby a different way each time you nurse will also help ensure the entire breast is drained. As soon as the duct becomes unblocked, the pain should subside.


This painful challenge can really put mom out of commission. Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast caused by infection or obstructed duct, and it causes a fever and flu-like aches and pains. And when mom is stressed, run-down, and exhausted, she puts herself at risk for this breastfeeding challenge. To treat mastitis, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic that’s safe to take while nursing. But if the infection is extreme, you may need a triple antibiotic that isn’t safe for baby. In that case, you can pump and dump until you’re done taking the medication.

Low Milk Supply

Breast milk supply naturally meets demand. In other words, your body is designed to make as much milk as your baby can eat. So to increase your supply, all you need to do is remove more milk from your breasts, either by pumping or nursing your baby longer and more frequently. If you’re doing that, and your baby isn’t gaining weight or dirtying enough diapers, then your milk supply may be low for some medical reason. Make sure you stay in touch with your child’s pediatrician and work with a lactation consultant to determine what’s causing the problem and figure out a solution.

Overcoming Your Challenges

Thrush, clogged ducts, mastitis, and low milk supply can make breastfeeding a real pain. The good news about all these common challenges is that they don’t mean you need to stop breastfeeding.

“These challenges can all be overcome,” says Redmon. “What’s important is that you know how to overcome them and get support when you need it.”