Home / Baby / Baby Feeding Guides & Schedules Common breastfeeding challenges and the products we swear by to help solve them Including a battle plan for clogged ducts! By Emily Glover and Sara Goldstein Updated July 26, 2023 Willow We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It’s not exactly possible to practice before baby’s arrival. The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as educating yourself on the potential challenges ahead, and stocking up on some lactation aiding favorites ahead of time. Breastfeeding is a natural and beneficial way to nourish a baby, but that doesn’t mean it always comes naturally. Even if you’ve done it before! Below we’ve outlined some of the most common breastfeeding challenges along with advice and breastfeeding products that can help. Of course, we always recommend consulting with your doctor or lactation consultant to find the best remedies for you and your babe. It’s not always going to be easy, but there are lots of ways to help! Latch issues and the breastfeeding products that can help Even if you feel like your nipples can be seen from space, getting your babe to latch on properly is a common challenge. Poor latch can make breastfeeding incredibly painful for you and frustrating for your babe as it creates difficulty for them as well. Switching up your breastfeeding positions can be a huge help. Related: When breastfeeding hurts: 7 possible causes and solutions, mama Engorgement and clogged ducts When your breasts become overly full and swollen, latch can become more difficult. You can try putting ice on your breast to help reduce the inflammation. Sometimes people use green cabbage leaves— cabbage has similar properties to ice and constricts the blood vessels. If that doesn’t do the trick, then there’s something else going on. If it’s only happening on one side and feel painful, hard, warm, red lump, you may have a clogged duct. In this case, try taking a warm shower or applying a warm compress and massaging it, or use a hand-held pump to help dislodge the clog. When your areola gets too hard for the baby to latch, or your breasts feel red or hot, those are signs that something is not right. Bamboobies • $19.99 1. Soothing Nursing Pillows For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it’s getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer. SHOP AMAZON Haakaa • $12.94 2. Silicone breast pump For clogs that won’t quit, moms across every Facebook group swear by this little miracle. Just add a few scoops of epsom salts and water to this handheld silicone pump and bask in the relief that follows. (Learn more about the Haakaa hack here!) SHOP AMAZON Mastitis According to Diana Spalding, CNM, “If bacteria enter the breast where there is unmoving milk, an infection called mastitis can occur, and mama, it stinks. In addition to the symptoms of a clogged duct, you will usually feel generally sick, much like you have the flu, with chills, body aches, and a fever. These symptoms warrant an immediate call to your provider (yes, even at 2:00 a.m.).” Once you’ve determined that you have mastitis, it needs to be treated with antibiotics. You can continue to nurse with mastitis, even while you’re being treated. Low milk supply Some moms may struggle with producing enough milk to meet their baby’s needs. This can be caused by various factors, including stress, inadequate feeding frequency, or certain health conditions. Luckily there are a lot of ways to help increase your milk supply, including staying hydrated, nursing often (and on demand), fully emptying both sides, and eating a nutrient dense diet. You can also add snacks like lactation cookies and milk boosting snacks. Related: 10 surprising foods that support your milk supply MilkBliss • $24.99 1. Chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is that they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors. (Check out our round-up of lactation cookies if you’re looking for more!) SHOP AMAZON Nunona • $34.99 2. Mama Balls Alternatively, you could also opt for the ultra nourishing Mama Balls! Formulated to help improve the quality of breastmilk, Nunona’s mama balls are made from all natural, plant-based ingredients like nut butters, dates, brewers yeast, flaxseeds and oats. Unlike power bars or similar energy-boosting snacks, these actually taste and feel good. They’re sweet but not overly so, have no weird artificial taste and digest so easily. And as any nursing mama knows, easy-to-grab, high quality snacks are clutch in those first months! There are several flavors to choose from, but we’re partial to the colorful cashew confetti and confess we eat them even when we’re not nursing. Take 20% off your order with code MOTHERLY20 SHOP NUNONA Nipple soreness and pain If prior to having a baby, someone asked you to rake your nipples over searing hot concrete, you’d likely decline. But welcome to motherhood! Ok, maybe we’re being a bit dramatic, but it’s truly astounding how painful nursing a sweet little toothless baby can be. In the early days of breastfeeding, sore and cracked nipples are common, even if you’re doing everything right. According to Spalding, “If it really hurts something is wrong—but the truth is that even in the absence of any problems, in the beginning, breastfeeding just doesn’t feel awesome. A very sensitive part of your body is (presumably) getting a lot more attention than it is used to. It is getting sucked, rubbed, nibbled and pulled up to 12 times per day. It’s bound to be a little uncomfortable, at least.” You’ll find your groove eventually, but in the meantime, there are many at-home remedies that can help. In addition to rubbing breastmilk on them (yes, it’s magical!) or spending as much time as possible with your nips exposed to air, nipple ointment can be a real game-changer. Bodily • $25 1. Nip Duo Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Heal and protect those most sensitive and crucial areas with this lanolin-free duo from Bodily. Nourish is a blend of hydrating ingredients like organic coconut oil, organic jojoba seed oil and calendula which is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, while Protect locks in moisture with a plant-based alternative to lanolin that’s rich with shea butter and olive oil. Together they make for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby. SHOP Earth Mama Organics • $13.99 Organic Nipple Butter Soothing sore nipples has never been easier. Earth Mama’s Organic nipple butter is made of safe, healing ingredients that provide both instant relief and long-term healing. And because it’s free of petroleum, parabens and other chemicals, you don’t have to worry about your baby ingesting anything they shouldn’t be. It’s also melts right into the skin while maintaining enough of a coating to do the work. SHOP Pumping If you’re headed back to work or simply in need of a break now and then, pumping creates its own set of challenges. Support and encouragement is a must. We also love the freedom of wearable breast pumps and breast milk coolers that keep milk chilled between pumping and feeding. Sarah Wells • $34.99 Cold Gold Breastmilk Cooler Bag This gorgeous breastmilk storage bag comes in a variety of color patterns, so if the bright mosaic isn’t for you, check out the black and white, or gray and white, or even the berry bloom pattern—you’re sure to find one you love. And not only did the Sarah Wells brand think about aesthetics when designing their cooler bag, but they also thought about functionality a well. This bag comes with lots of extra features, including a baby photo / ID sleeve, an adjustable and detachable handle, and an extra pocket for valves and membranes. SHOP AMAZON Ceres Chill • $68.98 Breastmilk Chiller Or, how about ditching the bag altogether and just pumping right into a bottle that keeps your breastmilk cold for 20+ hours? The Ceres Chill Breastmilk Chiller is compatible with all major breast pump brands and can hold up to 34 oz of breastmilk. SHOP CERES CHILL Mila's Keeper • $65 Breast Milk Cooler For quick trips, there’s no design handier (or more stylish) than Mila’s Keeper. The design, which looks like your standard reusable water bottle is outfit with a “colder than ice” ice pack which fits perfectly inside along with the included glass bottle to hold your milk. The bottles come in two different sizes to accompany a wide range of pumps so you can pump directly into the bottle for chilling. SHOP MILA'S KEEPER Willow • $349.99 1. Willow Go Wearable Breast Pump With a higher capacity than the Willow 3.0 (5 ounces or 7 ounces per side, if you spring for the larger containers), the Willow Go is an all-around favorite wearable pump thanks to the fact that it’s dishwasher-safe, has no external wires or tubes, and operates on a connected app. It’s leak-proof for movement within 45º, and you can control the suction on each pump individually for optimal output. The clear front design lets you see how much milk you’ve pumped—especially helpful. “I found the design to be very respectful of women’s lives and impressively convenient as a busy mama. It’s honestly so much more woman-centered than the tethers and tubes of a traditional pump,” says Liz Tenety, co-founder of Motherly, the host of The Motherly Podcast and a mom of five. As far as downsides go, the Willow Go isn’t completely spill-proof like the Willow 3.0, has more parts that need cleaning and can be kind of finicky to set up. Though it is quite a bit cheaper, and is more likely to be covered by more insurance plans (breast pumps are also eligible for reimbursement with your FSA/HSA card). SHOP WILLOW SHOP AMAZON Elvie • $494.99 (on sale) 2. Elvie Pump Hands down, the Elvie pump is quieter than most other options, which, if you’re pumping through meetings or calls or while trying to get a baby to sleep, can be key. A connected app can help monitor suction modes, milk volume and session timing, and you can pump right into the container, which each holds 5 ounces. Reviewers say one charge can get them through at least 3 pumping sessions, and the pumps charge using a micro USB cable, which you probably have lying around somewhere (good if you can’t find the ones it came with during those late-night sessions). It’s pricey, similar to the Willow, but the shape is compact, making it one of the more discrete options. “I exclusively pump, and wanted to find a wearable pump so that I can be hands free, cord free, so that I can go about daily tasks and play with my daughter. I started using it at 9 months postpartum. After giving it a few weeks’ use, it works well, it actually feels more like breastfeeding than any other pump I’ve used,” says reviewer Dawn. If you’re not ready to shell out for the Elvie double pump, you could opt for a single hub only, and just switch sides. SHOP WALMART SHOP AMAZON Elvie • $49.99 3. Curve Just pumping from one side? The savvy pumping parent might also want to pick up the Elvie Curve, a passive milk collector in the style of Haakaa. But Curve sits in your bra to collect any leaks from the non-pumping breast—the suction happens with the push of a button. The best part? You can actually move around (or risk a baby kick to the collector) without panicking about it falling off the nipple. SHOP ELVIE SHOP WALMART Support and leak protection It goes without saying, finding the right nursing bra is absolutely imperative. Breastfeeding bras offer support, protection against leaks (and leak you will!) and will make you feel more comfortable in general, especially when your breasts are particularly full. Some come with padding, while others are designed to accommodate reusable or disposable pads. Chrisie Rosenthal, an IBCLC with The Lactation Network, offers this valuable info: “Fit is important. Generally speaking, expect that you’ll need at least one cup size and one back size larger than what you wore pre-pregnancy. The bra itself should be supportive, but not restrictive. Underwire bras are not recommended because they can lead to plugged ducts and/or mastitis. Make sure you can unclip the nursing bra with one hand. You’ll find you’re often holding a baby, a pump, or supplies, and easy access to the breast is key!” Bodily • $34 1. Non-slip nursing pads Throughout your breastfeeding journey, expect your boobs to leak at any given time. Your baby is hungry. A baby cries on TV. You think about your baby. You think about someone else’s baby. A cat meows in a way that sounds like a baby. You name it, they leak. The solution? Having an arsenal of cotton pads to stick in your bra to soak it up. The reusable organic cotton and bamboo pads from Bodily stay put with a grippy silicone exterior and feel soft against your sensitive areas. The six-pack comes with three low-profile pairs and three full-coverage pairs. SHOP Lansinoh • $19.96 2. Stay Dry Disposable Nursing Pads Throughout my nursing days, these disposable nursing pads were indispensable. The individually wrapped pads not only contain the inevitable leaks, they’re also totally imperceptible through your clothing. So much less bulky than the reusable kind! SHOP AMAZON Bodily The Effortless Bra • $48 The Effortless Bra From its clip-free design to its silky-soft fabric, every detail of The Effortless Bra from Bodily is thoughtfully designed with a lactation consultant to optimize breast health and make breastfeeding as easy as possible. It’s incredibly stretchy with an extra wide band under the bust to accommodate size fluctuations without restriction. (As any mama who has ever battled engorgement or mastitis knows, a too tight bra is something to be avoided at all costs!) There’s also five clip positions at the back to provide even more size variability. When it’s time to nurse, just pull it down. The high-stretch, low-tension straps provide easy, comfortable access without compromising support. And honestly, it’s so comfy you’ll wear it long after your nursing days are over! SHOP BODILY The Dairy Fairy • $56 Ayla Nursing and Hands-Free Pumping Bra A wireless style for larger busts, this bra offers a supportive and uplifted fit for mamas with up to J cups. (Just be sure to check the size chart to convert the sizing!) It’s also one of the prettiest nursing bras we’ve seen, with a lace design that’s sexy enough for date night yet comfortable enough for the inevitable post-date night feeding. (Plus-sized mamas can check out their sister line, Milkful for lacy beauties that fit up to a band size of 52.) SHOP THE DAIRY FAIRY It’s essential to remember that each mother-baby duo is unique, and while some may encounter challenges, others may not experience the same issues at all. Seeking support from lactation consultants, healthcare professionals, and support groups can often help overcome these challenges and ensure a successful and fulfilling breastfeeding journey!