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North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust - 70 years of the NHS

Home > Patients and visitors > Your health > Breastfeeding > Common problems in breastfeeding

Common problems in breastfeeding

It can be hard to ask for help, but tackling problems with breastfeeding quickly will give you more time to enjoy your baby’s early days. In a lot of cases, the solution is as simple as changing your baby’s position or feeding them more often.

You can get help and support from your midwife, health visitor, GP or breastfeeding volunteer. They may suggest a breastfeeding group where you can get further support. Go to our help and support section for more information.

If your baby is unsettled

If your baby is unsettled and doesn’t seem satisfied by feeds, it may be that they’re not attached to the breast correctly. Go to positioning and attachment to check that your baby is feeding well or ask a for help to improve positioning and attachment of your baby. If this does not improve, seek advice from your midwife or health visitor.

Sore or cracked nipples

If your nipples hurt, take your baby off the breast and start again. Putting up with the pain could make things worse. If the pain continues or your nipples start to crack or bleed, ask a breastfeeding supporter to help you get your baby attached effectively. Pain is not normal so ask for help and support.

Try the following tips which may help:

  • Change your breast pads at each feed
  • Don’t use soap as it dries your skin out
  • Wear a cotton bra so that air can circulate

Sore breasts, blocked ducts and mastitis

An over-supply of milk can build up in your breasts for a number of reasons. If your baby is not well attached it may be hard for them to take your milk effectively, and some parts of your breast may not be drained during a feed, causing some pain in that area. Other common causes include wearing a bra that’s too tight, a knock or blow to the breast or missing a feed.

It’s important to deal with a sore breast or a blocked duct as soon as possible so that it doesn’t lead to mastitis (inflammation of the breast).

If you do have mastitis, you’re likely to have at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Breast or breasts that feel hot and tender
  • A red patch of skin that’s painful to touch
  • A general feeling of illness/flu-like symptoms
  • Feeling achy, tired and tearful
  • You may have an increased temperature

This can happen suddenly and get worse very quickly. It’s important to carry on breastfeeding as this helps to speed up your recovery. If you think you may have a blocked duct or mastitis, try the following:

  • Check and improve the attachment of your baby at the breast – ask your midwife, health visitor or volunteer breastfeeding supporter.
  • Feed your baby more often
  • Let your baby feed on the tender breast first
  • Hand express some milk to relieve the fullness if breasts still feel full after a feed or your baby can’t feed
  • Try warm flannels or a bath or shower before a feed to warm your breasts
  • Get as much rest as possible
  • While your baby is feeding, gently stroke the lumpy or tender area towards your nipple with your fingertips to help the milk flow

If there’s no improvement within 12 to 24 hours or you start to feel worse, contact your GP as mastitis may also be a sign of infection. If necessary, they will prescribe antibiotics that can be taken whilst breastfeeding. Stopping breastfeeding will make your symptoms worse so ask for help and support.


If you get sore, pink or cracked nipples after you’ve been feeding without problems for a while, you may have an infection known as thrush. Ask your midwife or health visitor or another breastfeeding supporter to check that your baby is attached effectively and make an appointment with your GP. You and your baby will both need treatment. You can easily give thrush to each other, so if your baby has it in their mouth you will still need some cream for your nipples or an oral thrush tablet to stop it spreading to you. Further advice is available from the Infant Feeding Coordinators.


Some babies are born with a tight piece of skin between the underside if their tongue and the floor of their mouth. This is known as tongue-tie and it can affect feeding by making it hard for your baby to attach effectively at your breast. Tongue-tie is easily treated and if you have any concerns, talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP, who can refer you to the Infant Feeding Coordinators for a feeding assessment and frenulotomy if required.