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Breast-feeding is feeding your baby milk directly from your breast. Breast-feeding is also feeding a baby from a bottle after expressing the milk with a pump. Breasts are prone to infection during this period, especially to mastitis.

What are breast-feeding and what are its benefits?

Breast milk is the ideal food for your baby because it is the most complete and only nutrition source needed for babies up to 6 months of age. Breast-feeding also reduces a child’s risk of developing many types of infections, eczema and asthma, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Breast-feeding could help you to recover from the stresses of pregnancy, labor, and delivery and it also lowers your risk of breast cancer.

Hormones in a woman’s body prepare her for and trigger the production of breast milk. Toward the end of pregnancy and during the first few days after delivery, glands in the breast produce colostrum. When the body releases prolactin, a hormone that stimulates milk production, your breasts produce more milk. The more frequently you breast-feed, the more milk your breasts glands will produce.

Breast-feeding is a learned technique so you will get better at it with practice. Almost all breast-feeding difficulties, such as sore nipples, may be prevented using proper technique, and by talking to your doctor or lactation consultant. The first weeks of breast-feeding are usually the most challenging for young mothers.

What is mastitis?

Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast; it might cause swelling, redness, tenderness and pain. There may be an infection as well, so it is wise to consult your health-care provider to determine if antibiotics are necessary. In some cases, breast infection can become a breast abscess that requires surgical draining. However, this is easy to prevent by promp treatment of mastitis.

Signs of mastitis

  * Part or the entire breast is intensely painful, hot, tender, red, and swollen. Some mothers can pinpoint a definite area of inflammation, but sometimes, entire breast is tender.

 * The woman feels tired, run down, achy, has chills, or thinks she might have the flu. A breastfeeding mother who thinks she has the flu probably has mastitis. Mothers with mastitis sometimes experience these flu-like symptoms, and this happens even before they get a fever or notice breast tenderness. Woman also has chills or feel feverish, or a body temperature is 101F or higher. These symptoms suggest that you have an infection known as mastitis and you should visit your doctor. If you are feeling progressively worse, your breasts are growing more tender, and your fever is worse, you have to visit the doctor. With simple engorgement, a plugged duct, or mastitis without infection, you should gradually feel better in time, not worse.

Home treatment of mastitis

From the time you begin breast-feeding until your baby is weaned, it is wise to take measures to prevent mastitis. If you have any symptom of mastitis, you should contact your health professional right away. Delaying treatment can lead to an abscess forming in the affected breast, which is a serious condition. Severe infection could even require intravenous antibiotics in the hospital.

Along with oral antibiotic treatment, adequate emptying of the affected breast helps prevent more bacteria from collecting. It may also shorten the duration of the infection.

You can safely continue breast-feeding your baby or pumping breast milk to feed your baby during the illness. You could also continue with breast-feeding even if you receive treatment for mastitis. You should know that your baby is the most efficient pump you have for emptying your breasts. Your breast milk is safe for your baby to drink because any bacteria in your milk will be destroyed by your baby’s digestive juices. Before breast-feeding your baby, place a warm, wet washcloth over the affected breast for about 15 minutes. You should do it only if your milk leaks easily; try this at least 3 times a day. This increases the milk flow in the breast. Massaging the affected breast may also increase the milk flow. If possible, you should continue breast-feeding on both sides, ideally starting on the affected side. It is critical that this breast is emptied thoroughly. If this breast is too painful to start with, try feeding from the healthy breast first and then after your milk starts flowing, breast-feed from the affected breast until it feels soft. After this, switch back to the healthy breast and breast-feed until your baby has finished.
Pump or express milk from the affected breast if the pain prevents you from breast-feeding during mastitis. A common problem is nipple pain that you feel because the baby latches onto sore nipples.

Self-care measures for mastitis

First off, take your prescribed antibiotics regularly and continue to breast-feed or pump breast milk according to your doctor’s instructions. Beside this, there are some other steps you can take to make yourself feel better until mastitis goes away. You may take acetaminophen such as Tylenol, to relieve your pain or discomfort. You can take ibuprofen along with acetaminophen to reduce the inflammation if necessary. Try to rest as much as possible. You might also apply ice packs to the affected breast to help reduce your pain. Place the ice outside of your bra or clothing; do not put the ice directly on your bare skin. You should drink extra fluids, and if your breasts are overfull, pump or express a small amount of breast milk before breast-feeding. This will make your breasts less full and will make it easier for your baby to latch onto your breast. If pus is draining from your infected breast, wash the nipple gently and let it air dry. Disposable breast pads placed in the bra cup may absorb the drainage.

Most women can successfully continue breast-feeding during a breast infection or mastitis. If mastitis makes it difficult for you to continue breast-feeding while the infection is under treatment, remember that emptying your breasts regularly is essential.

How to prevent mastitis?

The best way to prevent mastitis is to avoid the situations that set you up for it and relieve engorgement promptly. Your doctor should tell you that the milk that does not flow gets thicker and clogs the ducts, which is a set-up for mastitis. This means you should breastfeed frequently and not restrict the length of feedings. If you feel your breasts getting full, encourage your baby to nurse and relieve you. You do not have to wait for the baby to tell you he is hungry. You should also avoid sleeping on your stomach, or so far over on your side that your breasts compress against the mattress. Take care of yourself and get plenty of rest, both of mind and body.
Problems with recurrent mastitis are usually the result of irregular breastfeeding patterns: missing feedings. This could also be the result of giving bottles in place of breast-feedings. In some cases, skipping pumping sessions when separated from the baby could also be the reason for mastitis. That is why to prevent mastitis, you have to avoid these situations. Recurrent mastitis may also mean that your immune system is generally rundown, possibly due to fatigue and stress. Mastitis is a sign that you need to take a closer look at your lifestyle and breastfeeding relationship and make adjustments as necessary.

When does a woman need antibiotic treatment for mastitis?

You can experience the pain and inflammation of mastitis without necessarily having a bacterial infection. Yet, it is often difficult to tell whether mastitis has become a breast infection and when it is going to pass on its own. That is why it is necessary to consult your healthcare provider as soon as you suspect mastitis. In medical practice, most doctors operate on the principle of better to treat mastitis earlier than later. Mothers who start with antibiotics too late in the course of mastitis are more likely to wean their babies from the breast. They are also more likely to have a more severe infection, and to have the infection recur. In this case, it will be hard to prevent mastitis.

You may not need an antibiotic if you do not have a history of frequent episodes of mastitis. If you do not feel that sick, or if you have not gotten progressively sicker over the last few hours, you may not need antibiotics either. Your fever not rising and the breast pain and tenderness not increasing means your mastitis could pass, given time.

If you can easily correct whatever factors may have set you up for engorgement in the first place, you should not consider antibiotic therapy. However, if you do have a history of frequent mastitis, and your fever is raising, you might need antibiotics to treat mastitis. If you are feeling progressively sicker as the hours go by and your nipples are cracked, which allows bacteria to get into your breast tissue more easily, antibiotics are necessary.

Read More: Breast Cancer Prevention: Practical Aspects

Which antibiotics are best for treating mastitis?

The type of bacteria involved in mastitis is usually staphylococcus. In this case, the two safest and most effective classes of antibiotics against this organism are cloxacillins and cephalosporins. Other frequently prescribed antibiotics are either Augmentin® or erythromycin, depending on case specifics. All of these antibiotics are safe to take while breastfeeding and will not affect your baby. Even though you will feel better after a few days of taking antibiotics, you have to be sure to complete the full course prescribed by your doctor. Therapy usually lasts for ten days and you have to take it all. Otherwise, you run the risk of the mastitis returning. If you do not feel better after two or three days on antibiotics, you should call your doctor, so he or she might prescribe a different medication to treat your mastitis.