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Breastfeeding complications: When to see a doctor

Nursing is amazingly beneficial, both for mother and baby, but sometimes things can go wrong. Most breastfeeding complications occur due to latching problems, which mother can effectively treat herself. However, some of the symptoms, if left untreated, can cause pain and discomfort, and even dishearten a newborn from suckling naturally from the breast. In today’s article, Pacific Prime China will advise on when a mother should pay a visit to the doctor to avoid breastfeeding complications.  

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Common breastfeeding complications

Problems with the latch

Latching problems are the cause of the majority of the breastfeeding complications. Due to a bad latch, breastfeeding becomes uncomfortable and even painful. Breastfeeding complications such as injured nipples, engorgement, or plugged ducts can go away with some extra care, and the right latching position.

How to get a baby to latch correctly?

It is normal to feel discomfort or a slight tingling sensation in your nipples and/or breasts during the first 30 seconds of nursing. However, if such pain persists, it is a sign that your latch is incorrect.

The signs that a baby is latched accurately include:

  • Depending on the position, support for your baby’s head and shoulders.
  • The baby’s nose, rather than its mouth, should be in line with your nipple.
  • The baby’s mouth is wide open before it attaches to your breast.
  • The baby’s tongue, bottom lip, and chin should touch your breast first.
  • Once attached, the baby’s chin is touching your breast, and its nose is free.
  • The position feels comfortable for you, and you don’t feel pain.  

Mothers can work with a midwife or a lactation consultant to learn how to latch a baby in the right way. Such consultations are included in some maternity insurance plans.

Nipple and breast pain

Sometimes, even with the proper latching, breasts and nipples can get sore. Normal nipple sensitivity is a common ailment in nursing mothers. Normal nipple sensitivity usually goes away after the first 30 seconds of feeding and vanishes after the first few weeks of nursing. If needed, a mother can take pain relief medication such as acetaminophen to relieve pain.

For cracked nipples, lanolin-based creams applied frequently, both after and before feeding, can ease the pain and hasten the healing process.

Engorgement, which means that breast over produces milk, can sometimes impair the baby’s ability to latch. This makes engorgement worse because the baby cannot then empty the breast. Mothers can use a pump or manually expel some milk and apply warm compresses before feeding to address this problem. It is safe to take mild pain relief medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for engorgement, as well.

The problem of overproduction of milk usually goes away on its own. Tell your doctor about it, so they can check whether you have any hormonal imbalances or take any medications that could make problems worse.

Plugged ducts occur when milk is unable to flow freely, and appear as tender spots or lumps in the breasts. This happens when pressure from flowing milk builds up behind a plug, which prevents milk from flowing correctly. The surrounding tissue can then become inflamed, however, a plugged duct itself does not cause fever or other symptoms.

This ailment is quite common among nursing mothers, and can be treated at home through proper latching, or emptying the breast (by pump if necessary). Massaging and warm compresses also help with plugged ducts. If the duct won’t clear itself after a few days, or you start developing a fever, visit a doctor, as plugged ducts can develop into more serious complications, such as mastitis or galactoceles.

When to see a doctor?

In some cases, for the good of both the mother and the baby, a doctor’s visit is necessary. Below we present three instances when the mother should seek medical advice without delay.


Mastitis is a breast infection, and it’s one of the more severe breastfeeding complications. This ailment can develop on its own, following an unresolved plugged duct, or through untreated thrush. Symptoms include a breast becoming hot, swollen and red, fever, and a general feeling of unwellness.

The treatment

It’s essential to visit a doctor in cases of mastitis, as untreated incidences can turn into breast abscesses. A mother will usually be treated with antibiotics for 10 to 14 days and should feed baby often to help clear the infection with doctor approval.

Yeast infection (Thrush)

Pain or soreness of nipples during and between feedings, often described as burning or stabbing pain, as well as the presence of pink or red rash on them, can be symptoms of a yeast infection. Since yeast infections are communicable, your baby may also develop symptoms such as white dots on the inside of his or her lips and cheeks, or on the palate. Women with low iron levels and after antibiotic treatment are more prone to developing thrush.

The treatment

You should visit a doctor as soon as you first notice symptoms, as early treatment is beneficial and shortens recovery time for mother and baby. Both should be treated, even if only one has symptoms. After confirming the diagnosis, a doctor will either provide a prescription for yeast medication or suggest over-the-counter products.


Ankyloglossia, or tongue-tie, is an anomaly caused by the shortness and tightness of a baby’s thong of skin found underneath its tongue (the frenulum). Baby is thus incapable of sticking his or her tongue up and bringing it forward to cup the breast in the right way, causing pain in the mother’s nipples. Often the tip of the mamilla is damaged, as the baby’s tongue rubs against the end of the nipple, causing pain.

The treatment:

If you baby’s tongue-tie affects the breastfeeding process and is causing pain, a doctor will recommend a simple procedure to snip the thin flap of skin and free the baby’s tongue. A mother should then be able to start breastfeeding immediately after the procedure, and the whole wound should completely heal in 24 to 48 hours.  

Get the help you need

If you’re experiencing breastfeeding complications such as nipple and breast pain, engorgement, or problems with latching, you should seek medical advice. Talk to your obstetrician or pediatrician if you notice any of the above potentially severe breastfeeding complications. Furthermore seek out information from a nurse, midwife, lactation consultant or breastfeeding counselor on latching, hygiene, diet and overall health issues related to you and your baby.

Some maternity plans offer coverage for all of these options, and can also cover a newborn baby for 30 days of its life. Regular GP or Ob-Gyn visits are available through individual or family plans.

If you’re unsure how to determine which policy is the best for your needs, contact our insurance advisers at Pacific Prime China! Our team’s goal is to simplify insurance and aid you in choosing the health insurance plan that can best protect you and your baby before, during, and after pregnancy.

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Disclaimer: Pacific Prime China solely represents, operates and manages locally regulated insurance products and services in the territory of PR China. Any references to Pacific Prime Global Company or Group, the international services, insurance products or otherwise stated written or verbally, is for introduction purposes about our overseas network only as each entity is fully independent.

Content Creator at Pacific Prime China
Elwira Skrybus is a content writer at Pacific Prime. In her everyday work, she is utilizing her previous social media and branding experience to create informative articles, guides, and reports to help our readers simplify the sometimes-puzzling world of international health insurance.

When she isn’t writing, you are most likely to find Elwira in search of the perfect plant-based burger or enjoying Hong Kong’s great outdoors either at the beach or from the boat - the closer to the sea, the better!