How to Spot Breastfeeding Complications Early


While breastfeeding is the healthiest feeding option for your baby, it can be challenging, especially in those first few days and weeks.

Knowing the common problems associated with breastfeeding will help you spot and deal with any complications early on. This can dramatically improve your odds of sustaining a long, nurturing breastfeeding relationship with your little one.


A nursing mother’s breasts typically feel very full while she’s breastfeeding, but sometimes the breasts become hard rather than just full. This state is called engorgement, and it can be extremely uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Engorgement is caused when the breast becomes overly full with milk, usually because it’s not being emptied out at each feeding.


  • Breastfeed often (8-12x per day)
  • Wean your baby gradually
  • Express extra milk if your baby doesn’t empty them


  • Apply a warm, damp cloth on your breast – or take a warm shower
  • Apply cold compresses or cold cabbage leaves prior to nursing if breasts are severely swollen or engorged
  • Use a breast pump to ensure all the milk is expressed from your breasts

Plugged Milk Ducts

Sometimes a nursing mother’s milk ducts can become plugged. When this happens, you may notice a sore lump on the breast or near the nipple, and sometimes also a white or yellow “milk blister” on the nipple itself.


  • Invest in a good, properly fitting nursing bra
  • Empty your breasts completely after each feeding


  • Massage the lump or area before, during and after feeding from behind the lump towards the nipple
  • Nurse often
  • Apply a warm, damp cloth to the affected area


Mastitis can be caused by an improperly or untreated plugged duct or cracked nipple. It’s an infection of the milk ducts and is one of the more serious breastfeeding complications. If the skin around your nipples appears red and inflamed and feels hot and you have a fever, you may have contracted mastitis.

There is no real way to prevent the onset of mastitis other than following the prevention and treatment tips for plugged ducts and cracked nipples.


  • Go see a doctor to determine the best approach
  • If possible, continue breastfeeding as often as you can. If not, pump frequently
  • Take a mild pain reliever to help with discomfort and inflammation
  • Apply moist compress or soak breast in warm water before feedings. Massage the affected area using a gentle but firm circular motion after warm soaks.

Cracked or Sore Nipples

Most new mothers experience some degree of cracked or sore nipples simply because their nipples aren’t used to the rough contact they receive so many times a day. If your baby is nursing properly, these symptoms will most likely go away after the first week or so. However, if your baby doesn’t latch on well, if he sucks roughly or if he’s held in the wrong position, the result can be severely cracked nipples. This is a very painful condition that can end your breastfeeding relationship quickly.

A sharp pain when a baby first latches on is normal, but if the pain doesn’t subside within a few minutes, unlatch your baby and try again, before any damage happens to your nipples.


  • Wipe some expressed breastmilk on to them
  • Go see a lactation consultant to help with any latch issues