Overcoming three common breastfeeding challenges


Even if you and your baby take to breastfeeding right from the start, the emotionally and physically intense process can still have its own unique set of challenges. If nursing your child doesn’t come as easily as you’d hoped, it can be discouraging.

Don’t give up!

No matter how well prepared you thought you were, breastfeeding is a skill that requires effort, patience and a whole lot of trial and error to master. It’s ok if it takes you and your baby some time—and a few bumps in the road—before you feel like a pro.

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated in August every year, the compassionate Swedish lactation consultants are offering tips to overcome some common breastfeeding challenges.

Challenge #1 – Sore nipples

It’s not unusual to experience sore nipples when you first start breastfeeding. Soreness occurs within the first minute of feeding and decreases significantly or goes away. But nipple pain is different. It lasts throughout the feeding and your nipples remain hypersensitive during and between feedings. Here are some ways to reduce nipple soreness and pain:

  • Achieve a deep latch by planting your baby’s chin on your breast first to trigger rooting (a wide open mouth). Then snuggle your baby in to latch. Your baby needs to grasp a big mouthful of breast including some of the darker (areolar) tissue behind the nipple.
  • Change positions each time you breastfeed and watch your baby for active sucking and swallowing. When they slow down and take longer pauses, take them off your breast, burp and switch sides.
  • Take advantage of breastmilk’s healing properties by expressing a little milk and rubbing it into your nipples after each feeding is over.
  • Don’t wear overly tight bras or clothing that puts pressure on your nipples and breasts.
  • Avoid harsh soaps and ointments, scented lotions and astringents that can strip your skin of its natural oils and increase irritation.
  • Try products made especially for nursing; cooling gel pads and breastfeeding salve can be soothing between feedings.

If your pain continues and interferes with your ability to breastfeed, an experienced lactation consultant may be able to help you.

Challenge #2 – How often and how long to feed?

Babies need to feed every 1–4 hours for an average of eight feedings every 24 hours. They may have periods where they cluster feed and periods where they sleep for longer stretches. A feeding can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, which includes time on your breast, burping, changing sides and a diaper change. The best advice? Watch your baby not the clock!

  • Babies feed when they’re hungry. Breastfeed often, making sure your baby is latched on deeply and positioned with his or her body in close to your torso no matter what position you’re in.
  • Newborn babies are more nocturnal—at least for the first few weeks—and tend to cluster feed and be a little fussier overnight. It’s crucial that you breastfeed your baby during the night. It helps them grow and adapt to life outside the womb and plays an important role in establishing your milk supply. Although it may seem like you’ll never sleep again, most babies start to sleep for longer periods at night within their first six weeks of life.
  • It’s difficult to time the “average” feeding. Some babies eat quickly and efficiently. Others like to linger and nurse at a slower pace. Pay attention to your baby’s behavior to gauge how long to feed. Once your flow of milk slows down, your baby will slow down as well.
  • Monitor that your baby is getting plenty to eat by tracking their diaper changes and weight gain. Six to eight wet diapers a day, regular bowel movements and consistent weight gain of about 1 ounce per day for the first 3–4 months usually indicates a more-than-adequate milk supply.
  • Download the Circle by Swedish app to help you track feedings and diapers, especially when you are exhausted in the wee hours of the morning.

Challenge #3 – Plugged ducts and mastitis

A tender, sore lump in your breast could mean you have a plugged duct. If your symptoms include fever, chills, body aches, nipple discharge, and reddened breasts that are inflamed and warm to the touch, it could mean you have mastitis or a breast infection.

  • Breastfeed often on the breast with the plugged duct (even though it may be painful) to relieve the obstruction and keep your milk moving freely.
  • Use warm compresses and gentle breast massage from the nipple up toward your armpit to clear congestion.
  • While you’re nursing or pumping, massage the affected area using gentle pressure to help move the milk.
  • Contact your provider right away if you have a fever, red streaks on or near the affected area, or pus/blood in your breastmilk, which could indicate an infection (mastitis).


Be kind to yourself

Breastfeeding may be a natural process but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally to every mother and every baby. As you experience challenges, be kind to yourself. The Lactation Consultants at Swedish are here to help with any feeding issue. (PULL QUOTE)


  • It’s ok to ask for help from friends, family or a lactation consultant.
  • It’s ok to pump and bottle feed expressed milk.
  • It’s ok to supplement with formula or donated breastmilk.

The most important thing is to relax and try to keep your mom-guilt to a minimum. Whether you breastfeed for one day, one year or even longer, you are a Rockstar!


Swedish Lytle Center for Pregnancy and Newborns

When you need help feeding your infant, the Swedish Lytle Center for Pregnancy and Newborns has a wide range of services that give you the tools you need to successfully feed your baby.

We offer:

Call 206-215-9853, Option 1 to make an appointment.


Find a provider

If the challenges of breastfeeding and caring for a newborn seem overwhelming, the team at Swedish can help you overcome your difficulties to care for your baby in a way that meets both your needs. Find someone you can trust in our provider directory.

Related resources

Swedish Lytle Center for Pregnancy and Newborns

Breastmilk basics: does diet really matter?

The importance of breastfeeding and alternatives if you can't

Should I breast or bottle feed my baby?

Circle by Swedish – Pregnancy and Parenting App


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.


About the Author

There's a reason why more babies are born at Swedish every year than any other health system in western Washington - bringing babies into this world is our mission. The Swedish Pregnancy & Childbirth Team is committed to giving you relevant and actionable insights on how to care for yourself and your child as you navigate the trimesters of your pregnancy.

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