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

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!!!

Dr. Alan Greene

As a father of four himself, Dr. Greene has devoted himself to freely giving real answers to parents' real questions -- from questions about those all too common childhood conditions to those that address the most recent and rare pediatric illnesses. His answers combine cutting edge science, practical wisdom, warm empathy, and a deep respect for parents, children, and the environment. He is also an electrifying public speaker, and has personally touched many during his talks in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Dr. Greene is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of California at San Francisco. Upon completion of his pediatric residency program at Children's Hospital Medical Center of Northern California he served as Chief Resident. He entered primary care pediatrics in January 1993.

Dr. Greene is the Past President of The Organic Center and on the Board of Directors of Healthy Child Healthy World. He is a founding partner of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment. He also consults for the Environmental Working Group.

In 1995, he launched DrGreene.com, cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site” on the Internet. His award-winning site has received over 80 million Unique Users from parents, concerned family members, students, and healthcare professionals. In addition to being the founder of DrGreene.com, he is the Medical Director for HealthTap.

In 2010 Dr. Greene founded the WhiteOut Movement to change how babies in the United States are fed. In 2012 he founded TICC TOCC - Transitioning Immediate Cord Clamping To Optimal Cord Clamping. He is also the founder of KidGlyphs, a free iPhone app that provides a tool for young children to express themselves beyond their verbal skills while teaching them important language skills.

Dr. Greene is the Founding President of the Society for Participatory Medicine and has served as both President and Board Chair of Hi-Ethics (Health Internet Ethics. He is on the Board of Directors for Healthy Child Healthy World, The Lunchbox Project, and The Society for Participatory Medicine. He has also served as an advisor to URAC for both their inaugural and their updated health web site accreditation program. He is a founding member of the e-Patient Scholars Working Group, and a founding board member of the Center for Information Therapy.

Dr. Greene is a regular columnist for Parenting Magazine. He is also the Pediatric Expert for The People’s Pharmacy (as heard on NPR) and Healing Quest (seen on PBS stations). He was the original Pediatric Expert for both Yahoo! and iVillage.

Dr. Greene is the author of Feeding Baby Green (Wiley, 2009), Raising Baby Green (Wiley, 2007), From First Kicks to First Steps (McGraw-Hill, 2004), The Parent's Complete Guide to Ear Infections (People's Medical Society, 1997), and a co-author of The A.D.A.M. Illustrated Family Health Guide (A.D.A.M., Inc., 2004). He is the medical expert for three additional books, The Parent's Soup A-to-Z Guide to Your New Baby, (Contemporary Books, 1998) The Parent's Soup A-to-Z Guide to Your Toddler, (Contemporary Books, 1999), and The Mother of All Baby Books, (Hungry Minds, Inc., 2002).

Dr. Greene is a frequent keynote speaker at important events such as Health 2.0 2011 held in San Diego, CA, IFOAM 2008 (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements), held in Modena Italy, the first European Internet health conference, held in Maastricht, the first International eHealth Association Conference, held in Jeddah, and the largest e-Healthcare World Conference, held in Las Vegas, and the first Green Power Baby Shower, held in Hollywood. Dr. Greene also appears frequently on TV, radio, websites, and in newspapers and magazines around the world, including such venues as the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, Fox and Friends, The Dr. Oz Show, CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC network news, NPR, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time Magazine, Parade, Parenting, Child, Baby Talk, Working Mother, Better Home's & Gardens, and the Reader's Digest.

Dr. Greene loves to think about challenging ideas, he enjoys being where nothing manmade can be seen, and he wears green socks.

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