Go to page content

Newborn Breastfeeding Tips from a TCM Perspective

Wondering how to cope with newborn breastfeeding issues? Here’s a TCM perspective on it to improve the bonding experience with your baby.

An Asian mother breastfeeding her newborn baby on a white bed.

The feeling of bringing a child into the world is a beautiful experience. Pregnancy is merely the first chapter of motherhood, with birth and the months following it. One process some may feel thrilled yet terrified about is newborn breastfeeding. It’s a relaxing way to bond with your bundle of joy, but every mother has different experiences and sentiments.  

To understand the common problems associated with newborn breastfeeding, here’s what you need to know and ways to address them.

Engorged Breasts

New disposable nursing breast pads next to bottles of breast milk and a breast pump. 
Skipping your nursing sessions may lead to engorged breasts.

After giving birth, it’s normal to come across heavier, bigger, and more painful breasts. As milk is being produced around the clock and the blood supply to your breasts increases, swelling tends to take place along with discomfort and increased tenderness.

Other reasons for having engorged breasts would be because you’ve skipped nursing or pumping sessions, you’re making more milk than your baby needs, your baby’s changed their feeding schedule, or you’re weaning your child from breastmilk.  

“There are two types of engorgement – pathological and physiological. Pathological engorgement occurs when the amount of tissue retention is extreme.” 

Dr. Wong Boh Boi, Senior Lactation Consultant and Assistant Director (Clinical), Thomson ParentCraft Centre

Preventing engorged breasts 

To prevent pathological engorgement, it’s suggested to initiate breastfeeding early and frequently.

Physiological engorgement is the overfilling of the breasts from the milk supply, causing breast fullness and enlargement. This feeling of extreme fullness will go away after 24 hours with proper breastfeeding guidance. Feeding your baby provides the best relief.

To alleviate the discomfort further, a popular home remedy is tucking cabbage leaves into the bra in between feedings. It might sound strange but applying chilled cabbage leaves to swollen breasts provides a similar amount of pain relief as a hot compress. In a study in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, results proved the leaves significantly reduced the hardness of breasts. 

Change the leaves every two to three hours as they will wilt.

Cracked Nipples 

This newborn breastfeeding problem occurs when your baby doesn’t latch well to your breasts. Nipples can look crusty, flaky, red, and dry, and feel raw, itchy, irritated, or sore. Improper nursing techniques and improper use of a breast pump are the causes, so here is another newborn breastfeeding tip: Change your breastfeeding technique.

Treating Cracked Nipples 

Dr Wong recommends this newborn breastfeeding tip – Smearing some breastmilk on cracked nipples helps with healing. If breastfeeding cream is used instead, she advises the mother to use edible cream to avoid too much cleaning of the breasts, which can lead to more soreness. In addition, breast shells are helpful in preventing clothing from causing friction against sore nipples. 


A zoomed-in shot of a woman in a pink sweater checking her breast. 
Seeing red patches and feeling pain in the breast area may be mastitis.

Mastitis is an infection that develops in the breast tissue, causing inflammation. This occurs when a blocked milk duct or bacteria on the skin and the baby’s saliva invades the breast tissue. It can also develop when a mother and baby are still figuring out the right breastfeeding techniques, usually occurring within the first six to 12 weeks of nursing.

The symptoms you may feel or see are: 

  • Redness, especially in the form of patches, in the breast area  
  • Warm and painful breasts when touched  
  • A constant burning sensation in the breasts 
  • Flu-like symptoms such as chills, fatigue, body aches, and elevated body temperature 

It’s important to distinguish the case of mastitis as infective or non-infective early on because the first mentioned generally demands a course of antibiotics.

According to Kang Phaik Gaik, Senior Nurse Manager and Senior Lactation Consultant at Alvernia Parentcraft Centre in Singapore, “If mastitis is not treated well with the right antibiotics, it may lead to a breast abscess. It needs to be removed by a breast surgeon via needle aspiration or incision to drain the pus.”  

Preventing breast mastitis  

Lowering your chances of mastitis can happen by breastfeeding more frequently to steer clear of breast engorgement. Gently expressing any leftover milk is another technique to include after feeding. 

“Gently but firmly massage the lump towards the nipple before and during each feed. Change feeding positions to let gravity help empty the breast. For example, if the blockage is on the armpit area of the left breast, lie on the right side, and lean over to feed the baby from the left breast.”

Dr Wong Boh Boi, Senior Lactation Consultant and Assistant Director (Clinical), Thomson ParentCraft Centre, Singapore

Other breastfeeding tips are getting sufficient rest, drinking plenty of fluids, applying cool compresses after feeding, using stroking techniques to massage the milk duct, and wearing loose-fitted clothes.

How to treat breast mastitis 

Acupuncture is one treatment mothers can undergo while on antibiotics. According to a study from the Journal of Korean Obstetrics and Gynecology, the TCM technique showed similar effectiveness to antibiotics and had many possibilities as one of the treatments for mastitis.

TCM physicians may also prescribe Gua Lou San (瓜蒌散), a herbal formula comprising snake gourd (she gua, 蛇瓜), honeysuckle (yin qiao, 银翘), Dahurian Angelica root (bai zhi, 白芷), and tangerine peel (chen pi, 陈皮).

Dried honeysuckle flower in a dish.
Honeysuckle flower is one of the herbs in Gua Lou San formula prescribed by TCM physicians, which can be used to treat breast mastitis.

Plugged Milk Ducts 

Not only can plugged milk ducts lead to mastitis, but they can also create milk blisters. Plugged milk ducts happen during lactation when the milk duct is blocked (from inflammation in the soft tissues and surrounding blood vessels), preventing milk from reaching the nipple. This causes a tender, painful lump in the breast.

Preventing and treating plugged milk ducts  

Treating this before it becomes an infection is necessary. It can be nipped in the bud by remembering your nursing sessions, breastfeeding instead of pumping, varying breastfeeding positions, and practising acupuncture and acupressure.

A review of six studies conducted in 2021 by the International Journal of Pediatrics revealed that acupuncture significantly increased exclusive breastfeeding, while acupressure improved breast milk production. Both treatments decreased breast engorgement and breast pain in lactating mothers.

One TCM alternative is the EYS postnatal care package, which offers 15 kinds of herbal soups for women who have recently given birth. You can consider the Eight Treasures soup (ba zhen, 八珍), All Nourishing Decoction (shi quan, 十全), and mutton soup with Angelica root as well. Physician Qi Xiao Yan from Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic notes that these herbs are good for replenishing qi-blood.

One thing to always take note of is the importance of breastfeeding (and doing so frequently) because breast milk contains the nutrients that babies need. It encourages brain development, helps the immune system, and lowers the risk of allergic reactions.

No matter what you may face when entering motherhood, these tips on newborn breastfeeding will help you steer clear of nursing no-nos and how to handle situations that may arise. Refer to this article as a guide and enjoy your pain-free bonding sessions with your little one.

This is an adaptation of the article “Breastfeeding Wellness”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.


  1. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 2017. Application of cabbage leaves compared to gel packs for mothers with breast engorgement: Randomised controlled trial. [online] Available at <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0020748917301931> [Accessed on 14 December 2022]
  2. Journal of Korean Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2017. The Effectiveness of Acupuncture and Moxibustion Treatment for Mastitis: A Systematic Review. [online] Available at <https://koreascience.kr/article/JAKO201724963132733.page> [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
  3. Journal of Pediatrics. 2021. The Effect of Acupressure, Acupuncture and Massage Techniques on the Symptoms of Breast Engorgement and Increased Breast Milk Volume in Lactating Mothers: A Systematic Review. [online] Available at <https://ijp.mums.ac.ir/article_17271_c1af14c848b841c2a2ad419c7fcc5bfb.pdf> [Accessed on 15 December 2022]

Share this article on

Was This Article Useful to You?

Want more healthy tips?

Get All Things Health in your mailbox today!

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related Articles

The contents of the All Things Health website are for informational and educational purposes only.
Our website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.