Mother and Baby

Dealing With Painful Breasts While Breastfeeding – What You Can Do

Breastfeeding may be best but, for some women, it can be painful. If you’re experiencing discomfort, work out the cause and soothe it fast

You’ve worked out the most comfortable position, got the hang of encouraging your baby to latch on and pretty much have breastfeeding established.

So, when something feels painful or uncomfortable, it can be disheartening.

There are different reasons why this might be happening, so it’s just a case of working out what’s going on and how to solve it.

Letdown reflex

The letdown reflex (when milk fills the breast ready for feeding) can sometimes be pretty uncomfortable. The sensation can range from a slight tingling or pins and needles to a feeling of great pressure that ends up giving you an achey boob. For some, there’s not really any feeling at all.  

The good news is that letdown discomfort tends to lessen with time and can fade almost entirely within the first three months of breastfeeding. This is particularly true if you produce a lot of milk at first. You’ll find your milk supply soon settles down to match your baby’s needs during the first few weeks and months.

What you can do: Relaxation exercises and techniques may help you to cope with discomfort during letdown. Taking painkillers (such as paracetamol or ibuprofen) can help ease the pain and are fine to take if you’re breastfeeding – although speak to your GP if your baby was born prematurely, at a low birth weight or has a medical condition.


Up until now, thrush probably made peeing pretty horrid and resulted in a quick trip to the pharmacy. But it can also develop and be passed between your baby’s mouth and nipples when breastfeeding.

Look for spots of cottage cheese or milk curds in and around your baby’s mouth and on your nipples. Unlike a white milk coating, if you touch a patch of thrush it won’t easily come off – and if it does, you may notice a sore red area underneath that may bleed.

On rare occasions, the infection may enter your milk ducts and make breastfeeding painful. Unlike letdown discomfort, thrush pain tends to gets worse after you’ve finished a feed.

What you can do: See your GP who will be able to confirm thrush and prescribe treatment for you both.


A few days after giving birth, milk floods into a woman’s breasts while blood flow to the area is also increased, resulting in the tissues becoming hot, swollen and engorged. While this can be painful in the early days, the discomfort should pass once your baby starts feeding.

If your baby has trouble latching on to suckle, ease the engorgement by expressing some milk by hand or using a breast pump until he can draw your breast comfortably into his mouth.

What you can do: To help milk flow before a feed, try putting warm damp flannels on your breasts. Once you’ve finished feeding, cold damp flannels or cold gel packs (some women swear by green or white cabbage leaves) can help to reduce the swelling.

If your baby is latching on well and feeding regularly and engorgement pain remains a problem, make an appointment to see your health visitor or breastfeeding specialist.


Mastitis is a painful condition that happens when excess milk is forced out of a duct and into your breast tissue, causing inflammation. Breasts feel tender (they may be red, hard, sore, hot or swollen) and you may also notice a lump, caused by milk in the breast tissue.

Other signs include feeling feverish and flu-like symptoms, such as chills, headaches, exhaustion and a temperature of more than 38.5 degrees C.

What you can do: The inflammation can quickly turn into an infection, so see your GP immediately, who will most probably prescribe a course of antibiotics. Removing plenty of milk will help to heal your mastitis, so it’s best to continue feeding.

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