Breastfeeding And Breast Soreness

  • Urja Malhotra Master of Science - MS, Global Health, University of Glasgow
  • Drew GallagherB.Sc. Biomedical Science, University of Manchester, UK


Breastfeeding, commonly known as nursing, refers to the act of providing an infant with a mother's breast milk. This nourishment can be delivered either by directly nursing from the breast or by extracting the milk through pumping and then bottle-feeding the infant. Breastfeeding is a fundamental provider of calories and vital nutrients for infants, comprising macronutrients such as fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, along with micronutrients including vitamins and minerals.1,2

As per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Policy Statement on Breastfeeding, mothers without health issues are advised to provide exclusive breastfeeding to their infants for a minimum of six months following birth.3 

Benefits of breastfeeding

The advantages of breastfeeding for your baby include:

Tailor-made composition with essential vitamins and minerals

Breast milk is a complete and perfectly balanced source of nutrition for the initial six months of a baby's life. Its composition adjusts according to the changing requirements of the baby, especially during the first month after birth.

In the initial days post-delivery, colostrum is produced in the breasts, a thick and yellowish fluid that is rich in protein, low in sugar, and packed with beneficial substances. Colostrum is truly remarkable and irreplaceable by formula, as it is the ideal first milk, supporting the development of the newborn's delicate digestive system. As the baby's stomach grows, the breasts produce larger quantities of milk.4

Breastfeeding offers defense against certain infections

Breast milk is rich in antibodies, which are essential in assisting your baby's immune system in fighting off viruses and bacteria, particularly in the vulnerable early months. This is particularly evident in colostrum, the initial milk produced. Colostrum is rich in immunoglobulin A (IgA) and other antibodies that are essential for your baby's immune defence.

When encountering viruses or bacteria, your body produces antibodies that are subsequently passed through breast milk, granting immunity to your baby. IgA, one of the antibodies found in breast milk, forms a protective layer in the baby's nose, throat, and digestive system, shielding them from potential illnesses. Unlike breast milk, formula does not offer the same level of antibody protection for babies. Multiple studies confirm that infants who are not breastfed have a higher vulnerability to health issues such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, and infections.4

Breastfeeding makes children smarter

Breastfeeding can potentially contribute to better test performance for babies. Several studies suggest that there might be disparities in brain development between breastfed and formula-fed infants. This variance could be attributed to the physical intimacy, touch, and eye contact experienced during breastfeeding, as well as the nutrient content provided by breast milk.

Research indicates that breastfed babies tend to achieve higher intelligence scores and are less prone to developing behavioural problems or facing learning difficulties as they grow older.5

It also reduces the risks of diseases such as SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), childhood diabetes, and leukaemia.

Exclusive breastfeeding, where the infant receives only breast milk, offers numerous benefits and may lower the baby's risk of various illnesses and diseases, including:

  • Middle ear infections: Exclusive and extended breastfeeding might offer defense against middle ear, throat, and sinus infections even beyond infancy
  • Respiratory tract infections: Breastfeeding can provide protection against multiple acute respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses
  • Colds and infections: Infants who are exclusively breastfed for six months could potentially experience a reduced likelihood of encountering severe colds and infections in the ear or throat
  • Gut infections: Breastfeeding is associated with a reduction in gut infections
  • Intestinal tissue damage: Feeding preterm babies with breast milk is linked to a decreased incidence of necrotising enterocolitis
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): There is an association between breastfeeding and a decreased likelihood of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), particularly in cases of exclusive breastfeeding
  • Allergic diseases: Breastfeeding is associated with a decreased risk of asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eczema
  • Bowel diseases: Babies who are breastfed may have a lower likelihood of developing Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Diabetes: Breastfeeding is linked to a reduced risk of developing type 1 diabetes and non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes
  • Childhood leukaemia: Breastfeeding is associated with a reduction in the risk of childhood leukaemia

Breastfeeding offers benefits and advantages for mothers as well. It aids in:

  • Uterus recovery - After childbirth, the uterus gradually reduces in size, and breastfeeding accelerates this process
  • Bonding with your baby - Breastfeeding is a beautiful and intimate way to strengthen the emotional connection between mother and child
  • Releasing oxytocin - This hormone promotes feelings of calmness and connection with the baby
  • Health protection - Breastfeeding reduces the mother's risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases related to the heart and blood vessels

Understanding breast soreness during breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can sometimes lead to breast soreness or tenderness, especially during the initial stages when both the mother and the baby are adjusting to the feeding process. Some common reasons for breast soreness during breastfeeding include:

  • Engorgement: In the first few days after birth, the breasts may become engorged as they fill with milk. This can cause the breasts to feel swollen, hard, and painful
  • Improper latch: If the baby is not latching onto the breast correctly, it can cause discomfort for the mother. A poor latch can lead to sore nipples and ineffective milk transfer
  • Nipple sensitivity: Some mothers may experience sensitive nipples, which can make breastfeeding uncomfortable
  • Let-down reflex: When the milk ejection reflex occurs, some women may feel a tingling or painful sensation in the breasts
  • Mastitis: Mastitis is a breast infection that can cause breast pain, redness, and warmth. It often occurs when milk is not adequately drained from the breast
  • Thrush: Thrush is a fungal infection that can affect both the baby's mouth and the mother's nipples, leading to soreness and discomfort during breastfeeding

Tips to manage breast soreness during breastfeeding

  • Ensure a proper latch: Make sure the baby is latching onto the breast correctly to prevent nipple pain and ensure efficient milk transfer
  • Feed frequently: Frequent breastfeeding can help prevent engorgement and keep the breasts comfortable
  • Offer the less sore breast first: If one breast is more sore than the other, start each feeding with the less sore breast to ease discomfort
  • Apply warm compresses or take a warm shower before nursing: This can help with milk flow and reduce engorgement
  • Use cold packs: Applying cold packs after feeding can help reduce swelling and alleviate soreness
  • Breastfeed in different positions: Experiment with different nursing positions to find the one that is most comfortable for you and your baby
  • Use lanolin or nipple creams: Applying lanolin or nipple creams can soothe sore nipples and promote healing

If the breast soreness persists or becomes severe, it's essential to consult a lactation consultant or healthcare provider for further evaluation and assistance.


How often should I breastfeed?

In the initial stages, newborn babies should be breastfed approximately 8 to 12 times per day for the first month because breast milk is easily digested so newborns tend to be hungry frequently. Regular feedings during this time help stimulate milk production and support the baby's nutritional needs.4

When should I alternate breasts?

To maintain a balanced milk supply and prevent painful engorgement, it's recommended to alternate breasts during breastfeeding sessions and try to give each breast an equal amount of nursing time throughout the day. You can switch breasts in the middle of each feeding or alternate which breast you offer first for each feeding.

Using reminders like safety pins or ribbons on your bra strap or keeping a breastfeeding journal or app can help you keep track of which breast your baby last nursed on. Some babies may prefer switching breasts at each feeding, while others may prefer nursing on one side. It's essential to do what feels most comfortable for both you and your baby.4

Is it common to experience pain during or after breastfeeding?

When babies latch on correctly, some mothers may experience momentary discomfort at the beginning of a nursing session, but it should quickly ease. Feeling a gentle tug on the breasts is normal during feeding, but breastfeeding should not be painful. If discomfort persists during nursing, it is essential to stop and reposition the baby to achieve a better latch.

The nipple and areola (the ring around the nipple) should be mostly inside the baby's mouth. An improper latch can lead to pain, pinching sensations, and may cause sore, cracked nipples over time.

If you experience pain during breastfeeding, it is crucial to reach out to your doctor or a lactation consultant for guidance. They can assess your baby's latch and ensure that breastfeeding is comfortable and pain-free for you. Additionally, they can help identify any other underlying issues that might be causing discomfort during nursing.


After childbirth, you have the important decision of how to feed your newborn. Breastfeeding is the natural and recommended option whenever possible, especially for the first six months of your baby's life. Breastfeeding is essential for both mothers and babies, providing vital nutrients, immunity, and bonding.

However, some mothers may experience breast soreness during breastfeeding, which should be addressed and managed with proper latch, frequent feeding, and other measures. Encouragement and support for breastfeeding mothers are crucial to ensure a successful and positive breastfeeding experience. 


  1. About breastfeeding and breast milk | nichd - eunice kennedy shriver national institute of child health and human development [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2023 Jul 21]. Available from: 
  2. Ballard O, Morrow AL. Human milk composition: nutrients and bioactive factors. Pediatr Clin North Am [Internet]. 2013 Feb [cited 2023 Jul 21];60(1):49–74. Available from: 
  3. SECTION ON BREASTFEEDING, Eidelman AI, Schanler RJ, Johnston M, Landers S, Noble L, et al. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics [Internet]. 2012 Mar 1 [cited 2023 Jul 21];129(3):e827–41. Available from: 
  4. Breastfeeding faqs: how much and how often (For parents) - nemours kidshealth [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jul 21]. Available from: 
  5. Belfort MB. The science of breastfeeding and brain development. Breastfeed Med [Internet]. 2017 Oct 1 [cited 2023 Jul 21];12(8):459–61. Available from: 
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Urja Malhotra

Master of Science - MS, Global Health, University of Glasgow

Urja is a dedicated Global Health advocate with a passion for Gender and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) projects. With a rich background in designing Health & Social Interventions and conducting Qualitative Research, Urja brings a wealth of expertise to her work. Backed by years of experience, she excels in creating captivating content that spreads awareness and drives action, particularly in promoting the "One Health" approach.

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