Breast pain and other breast problems

Breast-feeding shouldn't hurt. But some women suffer from breast problems and pain when they breast-feed. Here's what you can do to manage some common causes of breast pain and discomfort:

Blocked ducts

A blocked milk duct (a channel that milk flows through in the breast) is not a type of breast infection. What usually happens is that the mother has a painful, swollen, firm mass in the breast. The skin over the affected area may be slightly red and tender. Fever is rarely seen. A milk duct can become blocked due to a poor latch, which leads to poor emptying of the breast.

A blocked milk duct will usually resolve itself within 1-2 days. During that time your baby may be fussy because the milk may come out slower. You can help clear the duct quicker by doing such things as massaging the sore area, using a warm compress on the area, feeding from that breast often (ensure you have a good latch), and getting some rest. If the pain persists or if you develop a fever, speak to your doctor or lactation consultant.


Mastitis is a breast infection that can happen if a milk duct becomes blocked and infected. Mastitis can cause breast pain, fever, and fatigue. To deal with mastitis, breast-feed frequently to help relieve the blockage in the milk duct, get some rest, apply a heating pad to the affected area, soak the breast in warm water for 10 minutes three times a day, and gently massage the breast. Don't worry about your baby catching the infection if you breast-feed - your milk has antibacterial substances that protect him. If things don't get better within a day, contact your doctor, as antibiotics may be needed to help heal the infection.

Breast engorgement

Breast engorgement occurs when your breasts become uncomfortably full of milk. The first instance of breast engorgement usually happens 2 to 5 days after birth, when your milk "comes in." This is sometime also referred to as postpartum breast engorgement. In this case, it usually goes away within 12 to 48 hours. Other reasons for engorgement can also include:

  • you are producing too much milk
  • you experience a delay in nursing or pumping milk from the breast
  • your frequency of feeding diminishes because your baby is beginning to stop breast-feeding

To deal with engorgement:

  • Start breast-feeding as soon as possible after birth.
  • Breast-feed often - at least every 2 to 3 hours during the day and at least every 4 hours at night.
  • Before switching sides, wait until your baby falls asleep or comes off the breast.
  • Before feedings, briefly apply a warm compress, then express some milk. Use cold compresses between feedings.
  • Gently massage your breasts. Move downward from the top to the nipple, using a circular motion.
  • Don't miss feedings. Use a breast pump if you are unable to breast-feed.

If these tips don't help, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant.

Sore or cracked nipples

The best way to manage this problem depends on the cause. There are many possible causes for sore or cracked nipples, including:

  • improper positioning of the baby
  • improper use of a breast pump
  • a short tongue, a high palate, or other conditions affecting your baby's mouth
  • nipple infections
  • breast engorgement
  • nipple confusion (a pacifier or bottle uses a different sucking technique than breast-feeding; if the baby uses this technique while breast-feeding, it may cause nipple pain)
  • allergic reactions to personal care products

Your doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant can help you sort out the cause of the problem. Your doctor can also help you manage nipple infections and irritations (which may require medications) and identify any health conditions in your baby that may be causing the nipple soreness.

You can also try rubbing some breast milk on the sore areas. Breast milk can help soothe the area and also has some antibacterial properties. Don't apply wet tea bags, honey, or cooking oil to your breast - this won't help and could make things worse.

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