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Common Breastfeeding Problems

Solutions to sore nipples, infections, and more, plus resources for breastfeeding moms.

Infections or Painful Lumps continued...

"Either problem can be easily remedied, and you don't have to stop breastfeeding in the meantime. It's perfectly safe to continue, even when an infection is present," says Huotari, manager of the Breastfeeding Information Center at La Leche League International in Schaumberg, Ill.

If the pain is from a blocked milk duct, experts at La Leche say you should apply moist or dry heat compresses to your breast for 10 minutes, three times a day. Also, massage your breast in a warm shower. As the duct unplugs, you may express some milk, which helps relieve pain. Continuing to feed on that breast is important because breastfeeding helps further open the milk ducts, says Huotari.

Though early treatment will usually prevent a plugged duct from becoming infected, this is not always the case. So if you have pain and tenderness and also find you are fatigued, running a fever, and have some flu-like symptoms, you might have a breast infection.

Normally, says Huotari, the same method used to treat plugged ducts works for an infection -- heat packs, along with bed rest. If your fever does not break in 24 hours, however, you may need an antibiotic to stem the infection. Call your doctor. In the meantime, experts say don't stop breastfeeding.

"Although it may seem counterintuitive to breastfeed while you have an infection, because breast milk contains such a high level of antibodies, your baby is safe," says Huotari.

Yeast Infections or Thrush

Yeast infection is a less troubling but still uncomfortable condition on the surface of the breast skin. This problem can develop even after weeks or months of successful nursing. The culprit is thrush, a form of yeast infection that thrives on milk. This infection will likely affect both you and your baby.

Signs of thrush include red or pink shiny skin that usually itches, and may flake or peel, says pediatrician Audrey Naylor, MD. To learn if your baby is infected, look for white spots on the inside of the cheeks, or sometimes a persistent diaper rash.

You might also find that you have symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection -- a clumpy white discharge and extreme itchiness.

If you do have a breast yeast infection, Naylor says you don't have to stop breastfeeding. But you and your baby do need treatment.

"See your doctor and let her or him make a recommendation for treatment. Don't try to buy a drugstore product and treat the infection yourself," says Naylor. While some products are safe to use while breastfeeding, others are not. Only your doctor will know for certain what is right for you and your baby.

Engorged Breasts

Engorgement is normal and can develop when your milk begins to flood your breasts, usually between the second and sixth day after you start nursing your baby.

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