Milk Makers Series: 9 most common breastfeeding challenges

In Features, MD Rated, Motherhood, Stories by Nicole Fuge


It’s time to nip the most common breastfeeding challenges in the bud. Because breastfeeding isn’t always easy – not all of us can just go with the flow, you know?

This feature is Part 4 of our Milk Makers Series in partnership with Medela, deep diving into all things breastfeeding – from preparation through to weaning. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and sign up to our newsletter for more.

Breastfeeding is like this cosmic connection between you and your little bundle of joy, right? There’s nothing quite like those quiet moments when it’s just you and bub, snuggled up, sharing that special bond. It’s like you’re speaking your own secret language, one that only the two of you understand.

But let’s not sugarcoat it – breastfeeding can be a real rollercoaster ride. From sore nipples that feel like they’ve been through a shredder to engorged boobs that feel more like you’ve got watermelons strapped to your chest. And don’t even get us started on those marathon cluster feedings that leave you questioning if you’ll ever sleep again.

But fear not, for you are a lactation sensation! Despite the ups and downs (and trust me, there are plenty), you soldier on like a true dairy queen. Because when you look into those milk-drunk eyes and see that satisfied grin, you know it’s all worth it.

If you’re an expectant mum wanting to load up early on the answers (because, knowledge is power), or you’re already breastfeeding your babe and wondering if you’re the only one struggling (hint: you’re not), here are some of the main issues mothers commonly struggle with.


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1. Latch

Getting your baby to latch correctly can feel like solving a tricky puzzle. A poor latch can lead to sore nipples, insufficient milk transfer, and frustration for both you and your baby.

What to do
  • Seek expert help: Don’t hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant or healthcare provider. They can provide hands-on guidance to ensure your baby is latching correctly.
  • Experiment with positions: Try different breastfeeding positions, such as the cradle hold, football hold, or side-lying position, to find what works best for you and your baby.
  • Retry if needed: If the latch feels uncomfortable or ineffective, gently break the latch by inserting your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth and try again.
  • Use nipple shields: These can really help with latch-on issues while you work on improving your technique. However, they should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
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2. Engorgement

Engorgement happens when your breasts become overly full, causing them to feel hard, swollen, and sometimes painful. This can make it tough for your baby to latch properly and can be very uncomfortable for you.

What to do
  • Frequent feeding: Breastfeed often to keep the milk flowing and ensure both breasts are adequately drained.
  • Warmth helps: Apply warm compresses or take a warm shower before nursing to stimulate milk flow and ease discomfort. The warmth helps open up the milk ducts.
  • Massage and express: Gentle breast massage or hand expression before and after feeding can help relieve pressure and ensure your breasts are well-drained.
  • Breast shells: These can collect excess milk and relieve pressure between feedings, providing some much-needed relief.
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3. Low Milk Supply

Worrying that you’re not producing enough milk to meet your baby’s needs can be stressful, but it’s important to remember that many women face this challenge at some point.

What to do
  • Nurse on demand: Let your baby nurse whenever they want to. Frequent nursing can help stimulate your milk supply. Pay attention to your baby’s hunger cues and avoid strict feeding schedules.
  • Stay hydrated and eat well: Drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet rich in foods that support milk production, like oats, leafy greens, lean proteins, and healthy fats. 
  • Pump it up: Consider using a breast pump to stimulate production and increase supply through frequent pumping sessions, especially after feedings. Aim for 15-20 minutes per session.
  • Get expert advice: A lactation consultant or healthcare provider can offer personalised tips and support. They can help you assess your baby’s latch, feeding technique, and overall milk transfer efficiency.
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4. Sore Nipples

Nipple soreness or pain is common, especially in the early days of breastfeeding. This can be due to improper latch, engorgement, or simply having sensitive skin.

What to do
  • Perfect the latch: Ensuring your baby is latching correctly is crucial to prevent nipple trauma and discomfort. Look for signs of a good latch, such as the baby’s mouth covering most of the areola and their lips flanged outwards.
  • Soothe the soreness: Apply nipple balm, lanolin-based nipple cream or hydrogel pads to protect and heal your nipples between feedings. These products can provide soothing relief and promote healing.
  • Air it out: Let your nipples air dry after nursing to promote healing and prevent further irritation. 
  • Protect against friction: Use breast shells to prevent clothing from rubbing against sore nipples. This can help reduce pain and promote faster healing.
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5. Blocked Milk Ducts

Blocked milk ducts can be incredibly painful and, if left untreated, can lead to mastitis. This occurs when milk isn’t properly drained from the breast, causing a blockage.

What to do
  • Frequent nursing: Make sure both breasts are fully drained during feedings. Offer the affected breast first, as your baby’s stronger suckling can help clear the blockage.
  • Warm compresses: Apply warmth before nursing to help loosen any blockages. A warm, wet cloth or a shower directed at the affected area can be very effective.
  • Massage: Gently massage the affected breast while nursing to encourage milk flow and help clear the duct. Use a circular motion starting from the outside of the breast towards the nipple.
  • Pump or hand express: Fully empty the breast if your baby can’t do it effectively. This can help alleviate discomfort and prevent further blockages.
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6. Mastitis

Mastitis is an inflammation of breast tissue, often caused by a bacterial infection. It can result in pain, redness, and fever, making you feel very unwell.

What to do
  • Rest and hydrate: Take care of yourself by getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated. Your body needs extra support to fight off the infection.
  • Keep nursing: Continue breastfeeding or pumping to empty the affected breast and relieve congestion. Stopping breastfeeding can make mastitis worse.
  • Warm compresses and massage: Apply warm compresses to the affected area and gently massage it to promote drainage and reduce inflammation.
  • Seek medical help: If symptoms persist or worsen, contact your doctor. You may need antibiotics to treat the infection. Don’t ignore persistent or severe symptoms – you don’t need to push through the pain.
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7. Breastfeeding Positioning

Finding the perfect breastfeeding position can be tricky, especially for first-time mums. Poor positioning can lead to latch issues and discomfort for both you and your baby.

What to do
  • Try different positions: Experiment with different breastfeeding positions, such as the cradle hold, football hold, or side-lying position, to find what’s most comfortable and effective for you and your baby.
  • Use pillows: Support your arms and your baby’s head with pillows or a nursing pillow. Proper support can make a big difference in comfort and ease of feeding.
  • Get support: Join a breastfeeding support group or consult a lactation consultant for personalised guidance on positioning. They can provide hands-on assistance and tips.
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8. Fatigue

Breastfeeding, along with sleep deprivation and daily responsibilities, can leave you feeling utterly exhausted. It’s essential to find ways to manage fatigue and take care of yourself.

What to do
  • Prioritise rest: Take every opportunity to rest and practice self-care. Sleep when your baby sleeps and don’t be afraid to nap during the day.
  • Accept help: Let family members, friends, or support groups lighten your load. Don’t hesitate to ask for help with household chores, meals, or caring for older children.
  • Relaxation techniques: Practise deep breathing, meditation, or gentle exercise like yoga to manage stress and promote emotional wellbeing. Even a few minutes of relaxation can make a big difference.
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9. Returning to Work

Balancing breastfeeding with returning to work requires some planning and organisation, but it’s definitely doable. With the right strategies, you can continue to provide breast milk for your baby while managing your work responsibilities.

What to do
  • Plan ahead: Establish a pumping schedule that fits your work hours and breaks. Aim to pump at least as often as your baby would feed at home.
  • Invest in equipment: Get a quality breast pump and storage containers. And make sure you have a comfy, private space at work where you can pump in peace.
  • Communicate: Talk to your employer about your breastfeeding needs and explore workplace accommodations. Many workplaces are required to provide reasonable break times and a private place for pumping.
  • Build a stash: Create a freezer stash of expressed breast milk to ensure a steady supply when you return to work. This can give you peace of mind knowing your baby will have enough milk.

Addressing these breastfeeding challenges often involves support from healthcare providers, lactation consultants, and the people around you – you don’t need to go through this alone. Just remember, patience, perseverance, and self-care are key.

You are doing an amazing job!

This feature is Part 4 of our Milk Makers Series in partnership with Medela, deep diving into all things breastfeeding – from preparation through to weaning. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and sign up to our newsletter for more.


Australian Breastfeeding Association

Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand

Local Child Health Nurse

Disclaimer: No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical or health advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional. Please refer to our Medical and Health Disclaimer for further information.