Quite common in breast feeding women, breast infections usually affect a woman a few weeks/months after delivery. The condition is usually caused by the abnormal increase in the levels of bacteria inside the breasts. The bacteria causing the breast infection would usually originate from the baby’s mouth and would enter the breasts while lactating.
Breast infection is also known to affect women in their post menopausal stage. Some women tend to suffer from recurring breast infections owing to conditions like a weak immune system, chronic mastitis, diabetes, AIDs, STDs and other chronic illnesses. In certain cases, a rare form of breast cancer called inflammatory carcinoma can cause breast infection in the initial stages.
Causes for Breast Infections while Breastfeeding
Lactating women can contract breast infections due to a number of reasons. Some of the more common reasons include cracked or sore nipples through which bacteria can enter the breast, blocked mild ducts caused by insufficient drainage of milk, breast engorgement, an unclean mouth (infant) or excess pressure exerted on the milk ducts by either sleeping on the stomach or wearing a tight bra.
Common Symptoms of Breast Infections in Breast Feeding Women
A breast infection is usually characterized by the appearance of an extremely warm and tender breast that looks reddish and swollen. Breast infections also cause extreme discomfort and pain which in most cases are accompanied by a series of other symptoms including fatigue, body ache, sudden body chills, breast abscess and breast engorgement etc.
Symptoms that indicate that the infection is serious and need to be checked out immediately include the appearance of tender lumps on the breasts, drainage of pus from the nipple and persistent fever that remains unabated even 72 hours after receiving treatment.
Risk Factors to be considered: Seeking Medical Help
Breast infections can be mild or serious. Sometimes, the infection would abate on its own and the symptoms would disappear after a few days. However, in certain cases the infection would have spread further into the breast, a condition that would give rise to more alarming symptoms that could indicate the seriousness of the issue.
Accordingly, it is considered wise to call the doctor immediately if the breast infection leads to pus drainage from the nipple area, extreme breast pain that lasts for long intervals, bright red streaks on the skin on the breasts and arms, suspicious lumps on the breast that do not disappear even after lactating, persistent fever, disorientation, nausea, dizziness, or vomiting etc.
Diagnosing a Breast Infection Caused by Breastfeeding
The first step a doctor would take in order to treat a breast infection is find out the reason for the same. And this would normally be done by a few tests and scans. In case the infection causes a breast abscess, samples of the breast milk and the skin near the abscess would be taken for lab tests in order to identify the type of bacteria causing the infection.
This will help the doctor decide on the right antibiotic to fight off the infection. In most cases, an ultrasound of the breast would be done in order to determine the extent of infection inside the breast. An ultrasound would also help to differentiate a simple breast infection from a far more serious medical condition that could be causing the infection.
Effective Ways to Treat/Prevent Breast Infections in Breastfeeding Women
Here are some of the most effective ways to treat/prevent breast infections while breastfeeding.
Cleaning the Nipples Properly
Cleaning the nipples properly both before and after lactation would remove bacteria that could otherwise enter the breast and cause infections. Take care of cracked nipples properly as well and attempt to use either a fake nipple or a breast pump to extract milk from the infected breast (in case you find it painful to feed from it) until it heals properly.
Draining Breast Milk Properly
Attempting to stop breastfeeding in between or not lactating properly can cause breast infections in breastfeeding women. Make it a point to remove all the milk from the breasts while lactating. Massaging the breasts while lactating would increase milk flow, thereby preventing the blockage of milk ducts which could otherwise lead to breast infections. Lactate from both the breasts at regular intervals to prevent conditions like breast engorgement.
Sometimes the best way to treat a breast infection would be to feed from the infected breast. Though painful, the action would prevent engorgement and the blockage of milk ducts, thereby preventing breast infections while breastfeeding.
If feeding from the affected breast causes too much discomfort or pain, use a breast pump to extract the milk from it. Emptying the breast is considered a good way to flush out the infection causing bacteria from the breast.
Applying Hot/Cold Compresses
Breast infection can cause the breasts to swell up and cause immense pain. A good way to take care of this pain is to apply either a hot or cold compress over the affected breast both before and after lactating. A suitable alternative would be a warm water bath that would soothe the inflamed breast and reduce the pain and discomfort caused by the infection.
Cold compresses can also be placed on the breasts to get relief from breast infections. It is considered wise to use them only after breastfeeding though as placing the cold compress on the breast before lactation would slow down the movement of milk inside the breast, thereby causing blockage.
Clean the baby’s mouth before and after every feeding session to prevent bacteria from entering the breasts. Help the baby latch onto the nipple properly if he/she is having trouble doing it on his/her own.
Rather than stopping breastfeeding immediately, wean over a period of time to allow your breasts to get accustomed to the change. Drink plenty of water and fluids at regular intervals to remain hydrated. Eat nutritious foods aimed at strengthening your immune system. This would prevent breast infections as well.
Medications for Breast Infections in Breastfeeding Women
Even though a breast infection can be taken care of at home with a few simple remedies, serious cases would need to be checked out by a doctor who would then prescribe medications or antibiotics to treat the infection. Here are some of the more common medications and antibiotics used to treat breast infections in lactating women.
Analgesics like ibuprofen and acetaminophen would not harm the baby and can be taken during pregnancy to treat a breast infection. Antibiotics like dicloxacillin and cephalexin also work well for pregnant women and can effectively curb the infection without harming the baby. Make sure that you check with a doctor before opting for any OTC medications to curb the infection. Continue the dosage until the medication finishes even if you feel better after a few days. Discontinuing the medication in between can cause the infection to recur.
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