It's important to take good care of your breasts while breastfeeding so that the process is as enjoyable for you as it is for your baby. When your breasts are not in good health, breastfeeding can be painful or impossible. After giving birth it takes a while for the milk to come. Generally you can expect the milk to flow anywhere between one and three days after childbirth. It may take longer if you've had a C-Section. Before the regular breast milk, you'll have Colostrum coming out. This is a thick pre-milk substance full of nutrition and antibodies for the newborn. Although there is not much of it, it's powerful stuff.
Breast infections most commonly occur one to three months after the delivery of a baby. If mastitis (inflammation of breast tissue) is left untreated, an abscess (a localized pocket or collection of pus) can develop in the breast tissue. It is a more serious type of infection. Bacteria normally found in a baby's mouth or on the nipple can enter the milk ducts through small cracks in the skin of the nipple and can multiply rapidly in the breast milk.
The first symptoms of breast infection are pain, swelling, redness and tenderness. You may start to feel unwell, almost as if you have the flu with a raised temperature, general aches and pains and a headache.
Before infection is apparent, you may have a cracked nipple or a break in the surrounding skin. You may also be aware that part of the breast is engorged because the breast is not draining properly.
If you suspect you are developing an infection, you should see your doctor as soon as you can. You will almost certainly be given an antibiotic that can be safely taken while you are breastfeeding.
It is important that you carry on breastfeeding because draining the infected milk can reduce the chances of an abscess forming. Your baby will not come to any harm from germs in the milk as they will easily be killed off once they reach the baby's stomach.
If, having started antibiotics, your infection does not settle quickly, then it is likely that an abscess has developed it needs to be drained. Earlier general anaesthetic was used to drain a breast abscess but now it is possible to treat it either by removing the pus through a needle or making a small hole in the breast and draining the abscess under local anaesthetic.
Sometimes mastitis is unavoidable. Some women are more susceptible than others, especially those who are breastfeeding for the first time. The following may help reduce the risk of breast infections:
Bra tips for healthy breasts
The contributor, Dr. Tripat Choudhary is Senior Consultant – Obs & Gynae at Fortis la Femme.
Image source: Getty Images
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