Breastfeeding Challenges

Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed your baby, but that doesn’t mean things will always go smoothly. Breastfeeding is a skill that can take time to learn. Be ready for a few breastfeeding challenges when you first begin.

Low Milk Supply

This is when your breasts do not make enough milk to meet the nutritional needs of your baby. If you have a low milk supply, there are many things you can try to increase your milk production. Your body gets the signal to make more breast milk when your breasts are empty, so breastfeed as often as your baby desires.

A breast pump does not empty your breast as well, so nursing your baby frequently is the best strategy for making more milk. If you need additional help to boost your milk supply, try a nutritional supplement containing fenugreek or other milk boosting herbs.

It is normal for your breasts to soften and feel less full when your baby reaches 3-6 weeks of age. Many mothers worry this means their milk supply is low, but your body is adjusting to the needs of your baby.

Taking an oral contraceptive, even the mini-pill, can cause a decrease in your milk production. As long as you are breastfeeding, use condoms or another barrier method of birth control instead.

Sore Nipples

A breastfeeding challenge many mothers experience is nipple pain in the first week of breastfeeding. Usually, nipple pain happens because your baby is not taking enough of your nipple and areola into the mouth. Your baby will need to open his mouth very wide as you bring him to your nipple.

Once he is nursing, check that your baby’s mouth is covering most of your areola. If your baby is just sucking on the nipple, gently break the suction by putting a clean finger in the corner of his mouth and try to get him to open his mouth very wide before bringing him back to the nipple.

If your nipples are cracked or bleeding, use a hydrogel pad to keep your bra from sticking to your nipple. This will reduce pain and help your nipple heal faster. You can also express a few drops and rub it over your nipple with clean fingers then let your nipples air dry, if possible. Breast milk has natural healing emollients and is readily available.


This is when your breasts become hard and painful because they are too full of milk. The most common time to experience engorgement is the first week of breastfeeding before your milk supply can adjust to your baby’s needs. Engorgement can also happen anytime you do not breastfeed or pump for an extended period of time.

If you are feeling engorged, breastfeed, pump or hand express as soon as possible. In addition to being uncomfortable, engorgement can lead to plugged ducts and decreased milk supply. To prevent engorgement, allow your baby to breastfeed as often and as long as he/she desires.

Plan ahead, if you are going to be away from your baby, bring your breast pump or hand express on the same schedule as you would normally breastfeed. If your breast is round and hard, your baby may not be able to get enough breast tissue into her mouth to remove your milk. You can pump or hand express to remove enough milk to soften your breast.

Help for Breastfeeding Challenges

Most mothers have breastfeeding challenges in the early days, but it becomes easier each day. Contact the lactation consultant at your local hospital for breastfeeding support if you have persistent concerns.

Want to Know More?

Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. West, D., Morasco L.,(2012). Ten Nursing Pitfalls. New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 5-6, pp. 38-40.

2. Cotterman, K., (2004). Reverse Pressure Softening: A Simple Tool to Prepare Areola for Easier Latching During Engorgement. Journal of Human Lactation, Vol. 20, 2: pp. 227-237.

3. Porter, J., Schack, B., (2004).Treating Sore, Possibly Infected Nipples. Journal of Human Lactation. vol. 20, 2: pp. 221-222.