Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Breastfeeding problems

5-minute read

Breastfeeding isn’t always easy. You may have some problems, particularly if you are a new mum. It is a learned art — don’t worry, most problems can be overcome.

Engorged breasts

When breast milk first comes in, your breasts may feel hot, swollen, lumpy, heavy and hard.

  • If this happens you should feed your baby often. Engorgement is less likely to happen if you feed your baby frequently when your baby wants to, day and night, from birth.
  • If feeding does not make your breasts feel any better, your midwife can show you how to express some milk from your breasts.
  • After a few days, your breasts will feel less full even though you are still making plenty of milk.
  • Use cold packs or washed cabbage leaves after a feed to reduce inflammation.

Sore nipples

Sore nipples are a problem for some new mothers. This usually happens because the baby is not attached to the breast properly. Breastfeeding should not be painful.

  • Sometimes the nipple may be sore (or tingling) at the beginning of a feed for a few sucks but if the soreness lasts longer than this, it means the baby is not on the breast properly.
  • If you find your nipples are starting to get sore, ask your midwife to watch you feed and to help you get the baby on properly each time you feed.
  • If your baby continues to feed in a poor position, you may end up with cracked nipples, which can be very painful.

Breastfeeding a premature or sick baby

Breast milk is easier than formula for babies to digest — especially premature babies. It helps your baby's immune system, and has special qualities that benefit premature babies. Even the smallest amount will help your baby.

In neonatal intensive care units and special care nurseries, staff are aware of the importance of skin-to-skin contact and breast milk, and will encourage you to provide breast milk for your baby.

You will need to start expressing milk as soon as possible after the birth, and to do it as often as your baby will feed (6 to 8 times a day at least).

In the first day or two, you will only be able to express a small amount of milk (colostrum); then your milk will ‘come in’, and the amount you can express will increase.

When your baby is strong enough to start sucking, the nursery staff will show you how to help and encourage your baby to feed from the breast.

Expressing milk and then trying to feed premature babies is hard work and often mothers are not able to fully feed their baby.


Cigarette smoking can decrease your milk supply and the chemicals in smoke can cause health problems for babies. For example, nicotine is absorbed into a mother's bloodstream and passes into breast milk.

  • If you cannot give up smoking, try to cut down the amount you smoke.
  • Do not smoke during a feed — apart from the harm of the smoke, there is a danger of hot ash burning your baby!
  • Don't let anyone smoke near your baby because your baby will breathe in the smoke. This is called 'passive smoking'.

If you quit smoking:

  • no tobacco poisons are passed to the baby through breast milk.
  • you will produce more breast milk.
  • your baby will feed better.

If you do continue to smoke while breastfeeding, then it is better to smoke after you have fed rather than before or during a feed.

For more information on how to quit smoking, visit the Quitnow website, or contact Quitline on 13 7848.

Drinking alcohol

If you drink alcohol when you are breastfeeding, some of the alcohol will get into your milk. The amount of alcohol in your breast milk will be almost the same as in your blood.

Therefore, it is best not to drink any alcohol while you are breastfeeding, but if you do want to have an alcoholic drink, make sure you do so after you breastfeed your baby.

You need to plan ahead. As a general rule, it takes 2 hours for an average woman to get rid of the alcohol from 1 standard alcoholic drink. The time is taken from the start of drinking. You can use the to work out when it is safe to feed your baby after drinking alcohol.

The occasional drink is not harmful. Drinking a lot or very often can be dangerous for the baby.

Breastfeeding help and support

Breastfeeding support and advice can be sought from other mothers and from a range of health professionals including midwives, baby health nurses, Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellors, lactation consultants and doctors.

Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA)

The Australian Breastfeeding Association offers mother-to-mother support and encouragement to breastfeed. It also provides counselling from trained ABA counsellors, a newsletter, a library and other activities. ABA support is available in all states and territories of Australia.

The website Breastfeeding Australia Association is an excellent source of useful hints and information. One feature is information for fathers. It provides an email counselling service and links to other breastfeeding sites.

You can get more information from:

  • Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436.
  • The Australian Breastfeeding Association's National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268.
  • Child and family health services provided by your state or territory government.
  • Parent helplines in your state or territory.
  • Chat to a Tresilian nurse online.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2018

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Breastfeeding problems | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Common breastfeeding questions: enough milk, too much milk, expressing - Raising Children NetworkCommon breastfeeding questions: challenges, getting help - Raising Children Network

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Nursing strike- breastfeeding refusal

A nursing strike refers to a babys refusal to breastfeed and usually occurs after breastfeeding is well established. When breast milk is rejected it can be distressing for both mother and baby, but with patience and professional advice breastfeeding problems like a nursing strike can be dealt with.

Read more on Parenthub website

Attachment to the breast | Australian Breastfeeding Association

A baby who attaches well to the breast can help prevent many breastfeeding problems. The well-attached baby causes no nipple pain and drains the breast well. This helps ensure a good milk supply so the baby grows well. In this article you can find out how to attach your baby well using different techniques and holds, including baby-led attachment, the cradle hold, the underarm (football) hold and lying down.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Videos | Australian Breastfeeding Association

This section contains a number of breastfeeding-related video clips. Please note that the views expressed in these videos do not necessarily reflect those of the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Expressing and storing breast milk

Expressing milk means squeezing milk out of your breast so that you can store it and feed it to your baby at a later time.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Baby blues

The baby blues are common in the first few days after giving birth.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website


Rabies is a disease of the nervous system caused by the rabies virus. Rabies infects domestic and wild mammals, and is spread to people through close contact with infected saliva (usually from bites or scratches, but potentially from licks to the eyes or mouth).

Read more on Queensland Health website

Pregnancy diet: Under-eating | Parenthub

Pregnancy Pregnancy and Food Pregnancy diet: Under-eating ( 3 votes, average: 4

Read more on Parenthub website

Feeding multiple babies

Feeding multiple babies, such as triplets or more, can be challenging at first, but even breastfeeding is possible with some expert help.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Australian Bat Lyssavirus

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) is a virus that can be transmitted from bats to humans, causing serious illness.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo