Challenges you may encounter while breastfeeding

by Kaiser Permanente |
Young mother working at home on computer, care her baby and breast pumping.

It’s not unusual to experience challenges when you’re breastfeeding/chestfeeding. Several conditions are common — if you experience any problems, let your clinician know.

Breast engorgement

For 3 and 5 days after you give birth, your breasts may feel very full. For some people, they become uncomfortable. In most cases, it goes away on its own.

With breast engorgement, your breasts become hard to the touch, swollen, and painful. Your nipples may not be long enough for your baby to latch on.

If you have breast engorgement, you can use several home care techniques to help yourself feel better:

  • Apply warm, moist packs or take a warm shower about 15 minutes before breastfeeding for moderate engorgement.
  • Apply cool compresses for up to 20 minutes after feeding your baby or pumping for moderate to severe engorgement.
  • Fully drain your breasts up to twice daily.
  • Take a pain medication that’s recommended by your clinician.

You can help prevent breast engorgement by:

  • Alternating which breast you offer your baby first.
  • Ensuring your baby latches on properly and is allowed to feed for as long as they are interested. Up to 30 minutes a breast.
  • Using different feeding positions.
  • Do not pump unless the baby is taking the extra milk.
  • Do not pump to store in the first month of breastfeeding/chestfeeding.

Oversupply of milk

Some people struggle to make enough milk, while others produce more than enough. You can worsen an oversupply by regularly pumping in addition to feeding the baby. This includes using a suction pump, pumping after or between feeding, or routinely pumping an extra session daily. Any milk removed from the breast routinely signals the body to replace the milk as the baby is eating it.

To help manage leaking, try:

  • Crossing your arms tightly across your chest and applying pressure to your breasts. Appy gentle pressure until the leaking stops. You can also use a towel to help stop milk flow.
  • Using nursing pads in your bra. These pads absorb any leaked milk. Change pads whenever they get wet. Avoid using any pads with plastic liners — these can trap in moisture and cause other problems, like sore nipples.


Mastitis is an infection in the breast/chest that can be caused by poor milk flow. It can also happen if your nipples become irritated or cracked, which may introduce harmful bacteria into your breast tissue.

In some cases, mastitis can occur when you are too stressed or tired, if you wear a bra that’s too tight, or if you regularly skip feeding sessions.

Common symptoms of mastitis include:

  • Aching muscles
  • A hot, red, tender area on one breast
  • Fever

Tell your clinician if you think you have mastitis. They can easily treat the infection with antibiotics. You can help to manage mastitis by:

  • Applying warm, moist compresses to any sore areas.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Massaging your breast in a circular motion. Start behind the sore spot and work your way down toward your nipple.
  • Resting, reducing stress, and getting extra sleep.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medications recommended your clinician.
  • Be careful not to overstimulate your breast and cause overproduction. This increases the incidents of clogged ducts and mastitis.

You can still nurse your infant from the infected breast. This actually promotes healing and won’t hurt your baby. If your breast is too tender to feed, you should hand express or pump milk. This helps prevent engorgement. Many moms notice a decrease in milk production on the infected breast. Continue to nurse your baby or pump as usual as the milk supply will recover.

When to call your clinician

Contact your clinician immediately if you notice:

  • A fever of 101 degrees or higher.
  • Breast engorgement that’s interfering with feeding.
  • Increased pain in one area of your breast.
  • Increased redness or red streaks spreading out from part of your breast.
  • Pus leaking out from your nipple.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.