How To Treat And Prevent Breastfeeding Ailments

In the land of Oz, Dorothy was afraid of things like lions and tigers and bears. But in the land of breastfeeding, you’re afraid of much scarier things, namely breast clogs, mastitis and abscess!  Oh my! 

Joanne Kimes

While it’s true that every new lactating mother has to deal with common discomforts like engorgement, let down, and seeing what breastfeeding has done to her once soft and smooth nipples, the real slings and arrows of outrageous nursing tortures are much more painful. Each one is discussed in my new book, "Breastfeeding Sucks: What to Do When Your Mammaries Make You Miserable," but let’s take a look at some of them here.

The most common of all painful ailments is a breast clog, a lump in the breast about the size of a milk dud. The reason for most clogs is that too much time had elapsed between nursing causing the milk in the ducts to thicken. To prevent clogs, nurse regularly to keep engorgement to a minimum, and remember to alternate starting breasts. To find relief, you don’t have to look any further than your baby’s powerful jaw sucking action. Start nursing on the side with the clog and latch him on with his chin aiming towards the clog since his lower jaw has the most suck for the buck. If the clog is stubborn or very painful, apply heat first with a warm towel, heating pad, or (if you’re lucky enough to actually take one) a warm shower. Massage the clog by gently pushing it towards the nipple (do not rub it in circles). And finally, check to see if your nipple has a small, white blister. If so, soak it in warm water for ten minutes (a coffee mug is good for this), and pop it with a sterile needle. Yes it’s disgusting and will make you want to feed your kid Power Bars from now on, but it’s all part and parcel of the lactating course.

Next up, mastitis, a condition that can make you feel worse than that time you thought a Long Island Iced Tea was simply tea made in Long Island. With mastitis, your breasts become incredibly painful, you run a high fever and become more exhausted than you already are (if you can imagine that!). Mastitis can be caused by a clog that wasn’t drained, forgetting to alternate breasts with each feeding, or a germ that got passed from your baby’s mouth, through your cracked nipple and into your milk duct. To treat it you’ll need a round of antibiotics so call your doctor. For pain, use cold compresses on your breasts and take an over counter pain reliever like Tylenol. And, even though you’d rather stick needles in your eye, you must continue to nurse (now you know why they created Mother’s Day). If you don’t, it could turn your already more-painful-than-a-bikini-wax mastitis into something far worse (which makes a great segue into my last ailment).

The breast abscess... The Super Bowl of soreness! The pinnacle of pain! The biggest scare to hit your breasts since silicone implants! A breast abscess is an infection deep within your breast tissue that causes a painful buildup of pus. Your breasts get red, swollen and painful, and you suffer from headache, fatigue, fever, nausea, and vomiting. The most common reason for this infection is to stop or limit nursing when you have a clog or mastitis. With an abscess, you must see your doctor to have it drained and get a round of antibiotics. You must also nurse only on the healthy breast and "pump and dump" the milk from the other. With antibiotics, your breasts will be up and around in no time, but until then, drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest (impossible I know, but try anyway).

There you have it. The big daddies of nursing ailments. I know they sound far worse than any lion or tiger or bear, but the good news is that if you keep to regular feedings and alternate breasts each time, chances are you’ll be just fine, and then can focus on other frustrations like getting your baby to sleep through the night and finding what’s left of your sex drive. But those are subjects for a different article...

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