Tips to treat sore nipples and other breastfeeding problems

Though breastfeeding is natural, that doesn’t mean it always comes naturally. A mom may run into some aches, pains and challenges along the way.

Nipple pain while breastfeeding

It’s normal to have discomfort while breastfeeding, but it shouldn’t be painful. One of the most common problems moms face is sore nipples while breastfeeding. One of the biggest reasons why moms feel pain while feeding is because of latch and positioning.

“A bad latch will make a mama sore and can cause cracked nipples,” said Sarah Musselman, RN, a lactation consultant at OSF HealthCare.

“If you’ve never breastfed before, using your breasts this way is something new you have to get used to,” Sarah said. “You’ll likely be able to tell if a latch is good or not based on how it feels.”

Getting a good latch can be tricky. If you’re having trouble breastfeeding or getting a good latch, Sarah’s first suggestion is easy.

“First try skin-to-skin,” Sarah said. “That will help your baby to latch more naturally.”

There’s a learning curve to breastfeeding, especially in the beginning. But working with a lactation specialist or talking to your baby’s pediatrician can help you figure out what the problem might be and how to solve it.

If you’ve tried the techniques suggested by your lactation consultant and still haven’t gotten a good latch, it could be a sign that you and your baby may need some further evaluation.

Cracked nipples and breastfeeding

Moms experience cracked nipples most often because of a bad latch. Getting a good latch is imperative to preventing or minimizing cracking and soreness. This could also cause a shallow latch, blisters, cuts or bleeding.

First try working to get a better latch. If you get help from a lactation consultant, they’ll be able to see from a better vantage point how the latch looks and help you get a better latch.

Using creams and ointments can also help to alleviate some of the dry, cracked skin. Using your own breast milk for nipple trauma is great and readily available. It has antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. In addition, using breast shields, wearing nursing pads in between feedings and avoiding harsh soaps can help to

But, if your baby isn’t latched well, cracked nipples will continue to cause problems.

Milk supply

When moms get cracked nipples, they often worry about their supply. Even with cracked nipples, you won’t run out of breast milk because it quickly replenishes.

“Drinking more water doesn’t increase breast milk production. Typically if a mom drinks too much water, she’ll actually produce less milk,” Sarah said.

If you notice that your milk supply is lacking, you should continue to feed your baby on cue. You could add some pumping with gentle breast compression to increase your supply. This sends a signal to your body that there is a high demand for milk and may help stimulate milk production.

Engorged breasts

Engorged or swollen breasts happen when your body supplies more milk than is demanded of it. This can happen if you’re not pumping enough or if your baby isn’t interested in as much milk as you’re producing. Your breasts may feel full, tight and sore, which actually may make it harder for your baby to nurse.

Feeding your baby or pumping more frequently – but not to the point that you’ve emptied your entire breast – may help to alleviate the swelling. If you pump or nurse until you’re empty, you’ll just fill back up again because your body believes that the demand is high, so a high supply comes in.

Blocked milk ducts

A blocked milk duct happens when milk gets stuck in one duct and starts to build up. Signs of a blocked milk duct include:

  • Lump in a localized area of your breast
  • Pain after letdown
  • Pain that is relieved after pumping or feeding

Continuing to nurse or pump, using a warm compress or gently massaging the area can help unclog a blocked milk duct. You can also take over-the-counter pain medication to relieve the discomfort until the duct is unclogged.

Some moms find using gravity to their advantage helps clear the duct. Get on your hands and knees and place baby on the floor underneath the affected breast and feed from this position.

You can still breastfeed with a clogged milk duct.


One of the more severe problems of breastfeeding is mastitis – an infection of the breast tissue sometimes caused by a blocked milk duct or bacteria entering the breast tissue through cracked skin.

Learn the signs of mastitis if you’re having trouble feeding so you’ll know what mastitis feels like and can spot it if it affects you.

Mastitis causes the following symptoms:

  • Swollen or engorged breast
  • Pain or burning
  • Tenderness of breast
  • Redness of breast
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

Experiencing one of these symptoms alone doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s mastitis. If you have multiple symptoms, it’s very likely mastitis.

If you think you may have mastitis, you should call your doctor. They’ll help you figure out the best way to treat it.

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About Author: Katie Faley

Katie Faley is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in English Studies. Before joining OSF HealthCare in 2021, she worked in magazine editing, digital marketing and freelance writing.
Katie is often found listening to ‘60s folk music, deciding on a new skill to learn, losing track of time in a library or spending time with her family and friends.

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Categories: Birth & Maternity