Pain and Infections Related to Breastfeeding

Is it normal to experience pain when nursing an infant? I'm so discouraged that I'm ready to give up. As a matter of fact, I've developed an infection in one breast over the past couple of days. Am I doing something wrong? Should I stop nursing until the inflammation clears up?

No one wants to spend a good portion of the day in misery, and a strong dose of pain with every feeding can demoralize even the most dedicated breastfeeding mother. Discomfort can have several causes. Many mothers, for instance, feel an ache during the let-down reflex. For some women, the engorgement of the breast prior to each feeding can be very painful. Becoming comfortable with nursing may take a few days or even few weeks as your baby learns and your body adjusts to this new function. You can reduce engorgement-related discomfort by nursing frequently, pumping your milk when necessary, taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen or applying cool packs.

Intense discomfort can arise from traumatized, cracked or inflamed nipples, which of course are sensitive areas to begin with. If the nipple is irritated at the tip, it is probably entering your baby’s mouth at an upward angle and rubbing on her palate. In that case, try holding your breast so the nipple points downward. If the nipple is tender at the base, help your baby latch on to the whole areola (and not just the nipple) by waiting for her to open her mouth wide and then pulling her gently to the breast.

Other causes of painful irritation, or even full-blown inflammation known as dermatitis, include such things as overzealous use of soap and water in washing; continuous moisture on the surface of the skin; reactions to breast creams or oils; infection with the yeast organism known as Candida albicans, a condition that can be treated with an antifungal cream; and, rarely, an ongoing eczema problem that has appeared on other parts of your body will erupt on the breast during nursing, in which case you should consult with your physician about appropriate treatment.

A potentially more serious cause of pain is mastitis. This is an inflammation of breast tissue that arises from a plugged milk duct or represents a potentially serious infection involving bacteria that gain entry into breast tissue, usually through a cracked nipple. Symptoms include pain, swelling, heat, redness and tenderness in a localized area of one breast, accompanied by generalized aching and fever. If you feel like you have the flu, you should consider the possibility that you have mastitis, even if the redness and tenderness have not yet developed. If there is no fever, you probably have a plugged duct that does not require antibiotics.

With or without a fever, however, it’s important to contact your doctor if these symptoms develop. Antibiotics that are safe for both you and child will normally be prescribed, and acetaminophen may be used to reduce both pain and temperature. Alternating application of warm and cold compresses can assist in the treatment. Gently massaging the inflamed area may also help empty the plugged duct. In addition, it is important to continue nursing, although you may be more comfortable with shorter, more frequent sessions. Your baby will not become ill by nursing from an infected breast, and emptying the breast of milk will help to clear the infection.


Focus on the Family Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care

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