Breastfeeding your baby successfully can be challenging and complicated at times.
Moms may experience discomfort while breastfeeding. Sore nipples and breast engorgement are among these, as well as a nursing-related breast infection or mastitis.
A breast infection is actually common to nursing moms. Up to one in every 10 women who breastfeed are affected by it. This painful condition commonly occurs within the first three months of giving birth. It is characterized by inflamed, infected breast tissue.
What causes nursing-related breast infection?
The two primary causes are milk stasis and bacteria.
Milk stasis occurs when milk flow is obstructed. This is caused by breasts not being emptied of milk after each feeding.
In turn, milk stays in the breast when: feeding schedules are restricted and/or erratic; there is an oversupply of breast milk which causes clogged milk ducts (as excess milk remains in the breast); and breastfeeding problems, such as the baby’s inability latch and suck properly—in some cases, these are a result of a condition in babies called tongue tie.
To prevent oversupply, pump and store your excess breast milk. You can freeze this and build an emergency stash or donate the milk to a mom in need.
Bacteria, which may come from the skin on your breasts or from your baby’s mouth, is the second cause of breast infection experienced by breastfeeding moms. It can enter through milk duct openings via nipple cracks or breaks. Bacteria may then come into contact with leftover breast milk where it can breed and cause breast tissue infection.
Common breast infection symptoms
The signs of mastitis tend to manifest abruptly. If you notice one or more of these symptoms and feel that you may have a breast infection, visit your doctor immediately.
- Tenderness in the breast area
- Breasts that are warm to the touch
- Constant burning pain while breastfeeding
- Red skin on the breast area
- Fever or flu-like symptoms
- Pus from breasts
Can moms with a breast infection continue to nurse? Find out on the next page.
Yes, moms who suffer from nursing-related breast infection can (and should!) continue to nurse.
Mastitis and breastfeeding
Moms may be discouraged to breastfeed because of the pain and discomfort a breast infection brings. At the same time, suffers worry about passing on the infection to their babies.
However, there is no cause for concern because breast milk has antibacterial properties and—in case you need more convincing—your baby’s digestive juices can kill off bacteria left in breast milk. Continuing to breastfeed is an excellent treatment for a breast infection (as explained below).
Doctors may not need to prescribe antibiotics for cases of mild infection. Instead, pain relievers that are safe for nursing, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can be given to manage discomfort. To treat serious cases of breast infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. For severe infections with abscess present, minor surgery may be required to drain the affected area of pus.
Here are a few things that you can do at home to help heal better from a breast infection. But remember that breastfeeding is still an essential treatment. So increase your feeding schedules and/or avoid restricting feeding. However, nursing on the infected breast must be avoided if abscess is present.
Apply cold compress to the affected breast to alleviate pain and reduce swelling. To help clear blockage and encourage milk flow, take a warm shower or apply a hot compress to your breasts just before feeding.
Get enough rest to allow your body to heal, and drink plenty of fluids.
Make sure that both of your breasts are completely drained after feeding by gently massaging them, stroking towards the nipple as your baby feeds. Applying a little pressure on lumpy areas may also help with milk blockage. Any leftover milk can be expressed by hand to empty the breast.
Relaxing and reducing stress also improves milk flow.
Nursing-related breast infection is often easy to treat and should not cause alarm or hinder nursing. Moms who suffer from this condition usually heal completely and quickly with the proper treatment and home care.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patricia de Castro-Cuyugan
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