Breastfeeding can be a true challenge at times. It often feels like there is one thing after another trying to keep you from being successful. But when you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and there is no better feeling!
Until you get a breast infection.
There are two main kinds of breast infections that you may experience while breastfeeding: mastitis and thrush. Both require medical attention, but also with both, you are still able to keep breastfeeding.
Breast Infection #1: Mastitis
What is it?
“Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness.”¹ It is often caused by a plugged milk duct, which then leads to the pain and swelling since the milk just sits there as opposed to being expelled (like it is supposed to be). It can also be caused by bacteria entering into the breast from an outer cause. This can happen when you have very cracked nipples.
What are the symptoms?
- “Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
- Generally feeling ill (malaise)
- Breast swelling
- Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
- Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
- Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or greater”¹
I want to add something to these symptoms as well. When it says “pain” and “feeling ill” that does not even come close to describing the sheer awfulness of it. I remember crying while trying to nurse my son through mastitis because it hurt SO FREAKING BADLY. You will feel like you have the worst case of the flu ever without the upper respiratory symptoms. Basically, you will feel like death.
“Thanks for being so positive, Aubree!”
Yeah, I know. Not positive. But with this sort of description, hopefully you will realize how important it is to call your provider right away! Antibiotics will help to clear it right up, making you feel like you can live again.
And I promise, you WILL live again. Please please please don’t wean early because of this. It will be awful to nurse through, but that is THE BEST thing that you can do. Since it is caused by a clogged duct, you don’t want to stop nursing and potentially clog even MORE ducts.
Treatment and Prevention
Like I mentioned, all it takes to clear mastitis up is a good dose of antibiotics. And remember, take the FULL dose of antibiotics. Not just until you are feeling better. Also, while taking the antibiotics, be sure to take a probiotic of some sort to keep the good bacteria high since antibiotics will clear out both the bad and good bacteria.
Mastitis is preventable, which is awesome. Here are a couple key ways to prevent it:
- Avoid wearing underwire bras, especially to sleep in
- You may be surprised to know that you have milk ducts in more places than just your breasts. They even extend out to your armpits. So when you wear an underwire bra, it can often restrict the ability of the milk in those outer ducts to be released causing it to sit there and become clogged.
- Nurse often
- To avoid those clogged ducts, it is important to keep the milk moving! Not only is frequent nursing/pumping important for your baby’s health, it is important for YOU as well. It is the continual emptying of the breasts that helps to prevent clogged ducts.
- Nurse in different positions
- I mention in a previous post about breastfeeding success, to try different positions while nursing. Especially in the beginning of your breastfeeding journey, these different positions help to fully empty all of the different ducts. If you are continually doing a cross-cradle hold, you may not be getting all of the ducts empty that you could if you did both a cross-cradle hold and a football hold.
- Massage any lumps
- If you start to feel a lump before experiencing the other awful symptoms of mastitis, then make sure you are massaging it before, during, and after nursing sessions. Just the simple act of rubbing from the outer part of the lump in the direction toward your nipple will help to release the milk from clogged ducts. If you can catch it early enough, you won’t end up getting any infections!
Breast Infection #2: Thrush
What is thrush?
“Thrush is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of yeast-like organisms called Candida albicans or ‘candida.'”² “Thrush infections can also happen after you or your baby has had a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics may reduce the number of helpful bacteria in the body and allow the candida fungus that causes thrush to flourish.”³
What are the symptoms?
“In breastfeeding women
You may have a thrush infection in your breasts if:
- you start to feel pain in both nipples or breasts after feeds, having previously had no pain after feeding
- the pain is quite severe and lasts for up to an hour after every feed
It’s not likely to be thrush if:
- you have always experienced pain while breastfeeding
- the pain only affects one nipple or breast
- you have a fever
- there is a warm, red patch on one of your breasts
Oral thrush in breastfed babies
Signs to look for include:
- creamy white spots or patches on the tongue, gums, roof of the mouth or insides of the cheeks – if you gently wipe these patches with a clean cloth, they won’t come off
- your baby being unsettled when feeding
- a white film on the lips
- in some babies, nappy rash that won’t clear up”³
Treatment and Prevention
Usually thrush is treated using an anti-fungal gel prescribed by your provider, and there are different ones available, whether it be just for you or if your baby also presents with oral thrush.
Thrush is also preventable.
- Take a probiotic
- You should take a probiotic while on any antibiotics to ensure a good amount of good bacteria. It is this good bacteria that keeps the candida levels low. When antibiotics wipe out both the bad and good bacteria, candida levels can go nuts. Honestly, it is just smart to always be taking a good probiotic.
- Limit your sugar and carb intake
- While this isn’t necessarily prevention, it is a way to help treat thrush. Candida LOVES sugar. So if your food can be turned into sugar, then candida has lots to eat in order to flourish. Try very hard to limit your sugar and grains.
- When you have thrush, the fungus is very easily transferrable. Any clothing items that come in direct contact with your breasts should be washed in hot water. You should also be changing your breast pads very frequently. Candida likes warm and moist areas, so you do not want to give the fungus that by having moist breast pads.
While there is no woman who actually likes breast infections, there are, thankfully, many ways to treat and prevent them. And if you are worried about potentially getting one, make sure to check out my post about How to Have Success Breastfeeding. It really is possible to be successful, even amid the challenges, so don’t ever give up! Just follow these suggestions to help ensure that breast infections end up being an easily beatable challenge.
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