Breast Feeding: Treating A Breast Infection

Time-tested suggestions and tips for the mother who chooses to breastfeed her infant. Learn more about mastitis and how to treat it.

Breast infections commonly occur between two and six weeks after birth, but they may appear at any time before delivery or after. Typical symptoms of mastitis are painful engorgement, hot and tender breasts, redness, fever, an overall flu-like feeling and headache or reduced milk supply. There is no reason for a breastfeeding mother to cease nursing simply because she has a breast infection. Although mastitis can be painful, there is no danger of the infection being passed on to the infant through nursing, and often there is benefit to the mother whose infection may clear up sooner if she's breastfeeding than if she isn't. However, occasionally the infant may not want to nurse at the affected breast because the milk may taste soured or different, in this case the mother can still nurse from her unaffected breast and express or pump the milk from the breast with mastitis.

If you develop the symptoms of a breast infection, it is important to treat it immediately so that symptoms don't become more severe. It is important to give your doctor a call right away so that if you need antibiotics, they can be prescribed. Occasionally if necessary, your doctor may also prescribe a pain reliever so that you can continue to nurse on the affected breast without discomfort.

However, you can treat many of the problems of mastitis at home. Of great importance is getting enough rest, especially if your breast infection occurs just shortly after giving birth when the mother is exhausted from delivery and the stresses of caring for a newborn. Moist heat such as a hot water bottle or dampened towel may help ease discomfort. However, do not apply an ice pack which can seize up your milk ducts and could cause the added complication of a clogged duct.

In addition, make sure your bra gives full support. You will be most comfortable if your infected breast is properly supported in a nursing bra. When you nurse, offer your infected breast first so that it is emptied fully, reducing pressure from fullness. Also make sure you drink lots of fluids which will keep up milk production and keep you healthy in general. Do not suddenly wean because of a breast infection as this may contribute to the formation of an abscess, complicating the mastitis and possibly even requiring surgery.

If you find yourself suffering from repeat mastitis, check to make sure there isn't a contributing factor that can be eliminated. Your breast infection may be caused from allowing breasts to get too full, or improper positioning while your nursing. Mastitis can also be caused by bacteria that come from inadequate hand washing before nursing, or a breast pump that hasn't been cleaned properly, or even from not getting enough rest. Your best bet is to make sure you have optimal conditions for breastfeeding, and if you come down with a breast infection, contact a physician immediately to prevent it from worsening so that your experience of breastfeeding, and that of your infant remains a pleasant one.

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