Breastfeeding is beneficial for many reasons. It's better for babies' health, it promotes emotional bonding between mother and baby, and it saves you money, to mention just a few. But the idyllic picture of the blissfully serene mother with nursing baby in her arms isn't the whole story. Face it: nursing can sometimes hurt. It's not always easy. And it often comes with physical side effects. All are manageable and shouldn't discourage you from breastfeeding—but you need to know what to do if any of these problems occur, plus understand how to prevent them. Painful, Cracked Nipples Nipples can get hurt in the first few days as you and your baby adjust to nursing. Your baby may not be latching on properly, which can cause your nipples to become tender and even cracked. This not only causes pain, but can lead to an infection. Work with your lactation consultant to find solutions, which may include training your baby to latch on correctly (areola plus nipple, not just nipple); feeding your baby from your least sore breast first; protecting your nipples with plastic shields; or treating nipples with creams. Consider taking a brief break from nursing to pump milk that can be fed to your baby from a bottle, letting your nipples heal. Breast Engorgement When you miss a feeding, your milk can build up and make your breasts hard, swollen and sore. Your nipples can even flatten, making it more difficult for your baby to feed. Engorgement is also common 2 to 5 days after delivery, when more milk comes in. Try expressing or pumping some milk to relieve the pressure. Treat pain and swelling with cold packs (such as a bag of frozen peas or crushed ice) over your clothes for about 20 minutes or with moist heat, such as warm, wet towels or warm showers. Some women also have found relief by placing cold cabbage leaves (cleaned and refrigerated first) on their breasts until they become warm, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Mastitis Sometimes nursing women get an infection in one or both of their breasts. This "lactation mastitis" usually happens in the first 2 to 4 months after your baby's birth. Signs include pain, swelling, warmth and redness in your breast, plus flu-like symptoms, such as fever of 101°F or higher and chills. Mastitis can be treated with antibiotics, so call your doctor right away if you see these symptoms. If it isn't treated, you could wind up developing a painful collection of pus called a breast abscess that would need surgical drainage. Plugged Milk Ducts Sometimes milk gets clogged in your ducts. When this happens, a hard lump (often red and painful to the touch) may pop up in your breasts or under your arms. You should treat a clogged duct right away so it doesn't lead to an infection. Don't stop nursing; in fact, you need to empty your breasts as much as you can. Before feedings, massage your breasts, stroking toward the nipple. Also put warm, moist towels on the area or take warm baths or showers. If symptoms don’t improve in a few days, or if you become feverish, see your doctor. Fungal Infections Fungal infections caused by Candida bacteria are also known as yeast or thrush. You and your baby can pass these infections back and forth during nursing. You’re especially at risk for if you have sore or cracked nipples, a chronic illness such as HIV or diabetes, or you use antibiotics or steroids. Signs include changes in your nipples, such as a sudden soreness or itchiness, as well as changes in appearance: flakiness, shininess or blistering. Your baby may have white spots in his or her mouth. Treatment can include antifungal medication for your baby and antifungal cream to put on your breasts. You will also need to clean and sanitize everything you or your baby come in contact with, such as pacifiers, bottle nipples, breast pads, and pump parts. Pain Due to Pumping Breast pumps are a boon for many new moms, introducing freedom and flexibility to schedules no longer controlled by an infant's feeding routine. But pumps also can cause physical problems, such as sore nipples. It’s normal to feel pain for 10 to 15 seconds each time you begin pumping as your nipples stretch. However, if this pain lasts longer than 2 minutes, call your lactation consultant. Sore nipples can be treated with creams or ointment containing lanolin, as well as cool, moist cloths or ice packs (over clothes) applied for up to 20 minutes. Physical Benefits Not every side effect of nursing represents a problem. Breastfeeding helps your body in many ways. You’ll recover more quickly from childbirth, with reduced postpartum bleeding. You’ll also be at less risk for various illnesses later in life, such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease. Plus during breastfeeding, your body releases hormones that help you feel more relaxed and bonded with your baby. If you experience pain, fever or other problems while nursing, contact your lactation consultant or other medical professional. With prompt treatment, you can keep a minor problem from turning into a major one, and quickly get you—and your baby—back to your regular breastfeeding routine.