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Breast Care for the Breastfeeding Mother

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

Why is breast care important while I breastfeed?

Your breasts will go through normal changes while you are breastfeeding. Sometimes breast and nipple problems can develop while you are breastfeeding. Learn about changes that are normal and those that may be a problem. Breast care can help you prevent and manage problems so you and your baby can enjoy the benefits of breastfeeding.

What breast changes happen while I breastfeed?

  • For the first few days after your baby is born, your body makes a small amount of breast milk (colostrum). Within about 2 to 5 days, your body will begin making mature milk. It may take 10 days or longer for mature milk to come in. When your mature milk comes in, your breasts will become full and firm. They may feel tender.
  • Breastfeeding your baby will decrease the full feeling in your breasts. You may feel a tingly sensation during feedings as milk is released from your breasts. This is called the milk let-down reflex. After 7 or more days, the fullness may feel like it has decreased. Your nipples should look the same as they did before you started breastfeeding. Breasts that feel full before and empty after breastfeeding are signs that breastfeeding is going well.

What breast problems may occur while I breastfeed?

  • Nipple soreness may occur when you begin to breastfeed your baby. You may have nipple soreness if your baby does not latch on to your breast correctly. Correct positioning and latch-on may decrease or stop the pain in your nipples. Work with your healthcare provider to help your baby latch on correctly. It may also be helpful to place warm, wet compresses on your nipples to help decrease pain.
  • Plugged milk ducts may cause painful breast lumps. Plugged ducts may be caused by not emptying your breasts completely during feedings. Pump out any milk left in your breasts after your baby is done breastfeeding. Do not wear tight tops, tight bras, or underwire bras. They may put pressure on your breasts.
  • Engorgement may occur as your milk comes in soon after you begin breastfeeding. Engorgement may cause your breasts to become swollen and painful. Your breasts may also become engorged if you miss a feeding or you do not breastfeed on demand. The best way to decrease engorgement symptoms is to empty your breasts by feeding your baby often. Engorgement can make it hard for your baby to latch on to your breast. If this happens, express a small amount of milk and then have your baby latch on. A cool, wet washcloth may help decrease swelling and pain in your engorged breast. Ask how long and how often to use a cool washcloth.
  • A breast infection called mastitis can develop if you have plugged milk ducts or engorgement. Mastitis causes your breasts to become red, swollen, and painful. You may also have flu-like symptoms, such as chills and a fever. Apply a wet, warm washcloth on your breast to help decrease the pain. Ask your healthcare provider how often to do this. You may need to take pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, to help decrease pain and swelling. You may also need antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection. Ask your healthcare provider about feeding your baby when you have a breast infection.

What can I do to help prevent breast problems while I breastfeed?

  • Help your baby get a good latch. Hold the nape of his or her neck to help him or her latch onto your breast. Touch his or her top lip with your nipple and wait for him or her to open his or her mouth wide. Your baby's lower lip and chin should touch the areola (dark area around the nipple) first. Help him or her get as much of the areola in his or her mouth as possible. You should feel as if your baby will not separate from your breast easily. Gently break suction and reposition if your baby is only sucking on the nipple. Talk to a lactation consultant if you need help with your baby's latch.
    Correct Latch-on Breastfeeding
  • Prevent biting. Your baby may get teeth at about 3 to 4 months of age. To help prevent biting, break his or her suction when he or she is finished breastfeeding or if he or she has fallen asleep. To break the suction, slip a finger into the side of his or her mouth. If your baby bites you, respond with surprise or unhappiness. Offer praise when he or she does not bite you.
  • Breastfeed your baby regularly. Feed your baby 8 to 12 times a day. You may need to wake your baby at night to feed him or her. Your baby should breastfeed from both breasts equally over the course of a day. If your baby only feeds from 1 side during a feeding, offer your other breast to him or her first for the next feeding.
  • Schedule and keep follow-up visits. Talk to your healthcare provider during follow-up visits if you have breast problems. Healthcare providers may suggest that you see a lactation consultant or join a breastfeeding support group.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever and chills.
  • You have body aches and you feel like you do not have any energy.
  • Your breast is red, swollen, hard, or painful.
  • Your breast feels warm or hot.
  • You have breast engorgement that does not get better within 24 hours.
  • You see or feel a lump in your breast that hurts when you touch it.
  • You have nipple pain during breastfeeding or between feedings.
  • Your nipples are red, dry, cracked, or bleeding, or they have scabs on them.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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