Breast Infections

Dear Dr. Greene, After eight months of nursing, I contracted a breast infection. I called my OB’s office and spoke with the on-call nurse. I told her my symptoms, she prescribed antibiotics and told me it was safe to continue nursing my son. I have two questions – Is there anything I can do, besides taking the antibiotics, that will help speed my recovery? How can I avoid getting another one? I want to keep nursing, but this really hurts!
San Mateo, California

Breast Infections

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

First of all, may I say that I applaud your efforts to continue nursing your baby, even when it is painful. Nursing has a powerful, positive impact on a baby’s health. By the time your baby is eight months old, he has undoubtedly begun eating a wide variety of solid foods. Even so, he continues to gain a large portion of the nutrition he needs from your breast milk. In addition, his immune system will be developing particularly rapidly until he reaches about one year of age. Until that time his own, immature, immune system is greatly augmented by the immunoglobulins he receives from your milk.

Breast infections are most common in the period from two to six weeks after birth, but they can happen as long as you are nursing. They are caused by bacteria that normally live on the surface of the breast, and may be complicated by a clogged milk duct. In many cases they are quite painful, and can be accompanied by flu-like symptoms. They are nothing to take lightly! Here are some suggestions for speeding your recovery:

  • Get lots of rest. Don’t wait until you are forced to go to bed! Start immediately.
  • Drink at least eight glasses of water a day. The kidneys are an incredible filter and help to clean the infection out of your system.
  • Place moist hot packs on your breasts. This stimulates blood flow to the infected area, which is another way the body has of healing itself.
  • Nurse from the infected breast first. You should do this because often the second breast is not fully emptied. Emptying the breast helps speed recovery by keeping fresh milk flowing through the breast. If you do not feel like the breast is empty, pump after each feeding.
  • Wear a good nursing bra that fits properly. It should offer support without restricting circulation.
  • Transient breast lumps are often present during breast infections. If a lump persists, don’t take it lightly! Breast cancer is not common in nursing women, but when present it is commonly missed.
  • Get proper nutrition and continue taking prenatal vitamins. Your overall health is essential in the healing process.
  • Take the full course of antibiotics recommended by your physician. If you truly have mastitis caused by bacteria, failure to take antibiotics can lead to worsening of the infection.

To minimize your chances of future breast infections, follow the general guidelines listed above and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before you touch your breasts. It is very easy to go from a diaper change into nursing, but you must be very careful to wash your hands completely in-between.

No matter how many precautions you take, you may get another breast infection. The key to minimizing its effect is to treat early and aggressively! In other words, take good care of yourself. You are very important to your baby!!!

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Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

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