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Breastfeeding is nature’s way of providing your child with the perfect balance of nutrients upon which to grow and thrive. Nursing also provides a wonderful opportunity to cuddle and bond with your beautiful new baby. However, as straightforward as breastfeeding seems, there may sometimes be a few bumps in the road. Sore nipples are common during the first few days if the baby has not yet learned to latch on properly. While this soreness should only be temporary, prolonged pain or discomfort may indicate a problem. There are several conditions that nursing mothers may face, which although painful or uncomfortable, are all treatable and should not interfere with the ability to breastfeed.

Thrush is an infection caused by Candida albicans– the same type of organism that causes vaginal yeast infections. You may experience cracked, pink or red, flaky nipples that itch or burn. Also, you might feel a shooting pain in your breast either during or after feeding. Babies with this same infection may have a diaper rash or white patches in their mouths that do not wipe off with a cloth.

Several factors can contribute to the development of thrush, including the use of antibiotics, stress, or having a vaginal yeast infection during delivery. In the latter case, the infection could be transmitted to the newborn’s mouth while passing through the birth canal, and in turn transmitted back to you while nursing.

Treatment generally consists of an anti-fungal cream, such as Nystatin, to be applied to the nipples several times daily, and may also include an oral medication for your baby. Be sure to ask your doctor if you should wash your nipples before feedings to remove the cream. Some anti-fungal creams may be harmful if ingested.

Until the infection is completely cleared and all medications have been finished, remember to wash and boil all toys, nipples and pacifiers daily. Wash your hands well before and after nursing. Also, if you are pumping breast milk, sterilize daily any parts, which come into contact with your nipples. Discard disposable nursing pads after each feeding. Finally, expressed breast milk should not be saved and frozen. Freezing may not kill the yeast organism and your baby could be reinfected at a later time.

A plugged duct appears as a painful, swollen mass. The skin around the area may also be reddened, and you may see a small blister or white “head” on the nipple. Possible causes include incomplete emptying of the breast or wearing constrictive bras or clothing.

There are a variety of things you can do to help relieve the clog in your milk duct. If you do see a small white “head”, try breaking it open with a sterile needle and squeezing out the fluid. Massaging the breast, applying moist heat or soaking the breast for twenty minutes in warm salt water (1/2 tsp. Salt per cup of water) can all help to lessen discomfort and promote healing. Continue to nurse frequently on the affected side and avoid constrictive bras.

Mastitis is a general term referring to any breast inflammation. It can be due to a plugged milk duct or a bacterial infection of the breast tissue. If you have a bacterial infection, your breast may have an area of hardness, redness, pain, swelling, or heat. A high fever develops within 24 – 48 hours. This problem is often attributed to fatigue, stress, poor latching on by the baby, a plugged milk duct, or engorgement of the breast due to incomplete emptying.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Be sure to remind him that you are breastfeeding and need a medication that can be safely taken without harm to your baby. Other ways to promote healing or reduce discomfort include massaging the affected breast, applying moist heat, treating the fever with acetaminophen, and getting plenty of rest. Bag Balm, sold in drugstores, is also very helpful in relieving pain. Rub a small amount on the area several times a day and remember to wash it off before feeding. Finally, it is important to continue nursing as frequently as possible on the infected side. Although this may be painful, it will prevent possible engorgement and plugged ducts, which in turn can lead to further problems and pain.

Breastfeeding can be a wonderful and cherished experience for both mother and baby. However, when discomfort and pain occur, this beautiful experience can easily turn into one of frustration. Contact your doctor or a lactation consultant immediately if you have any concerns. Prompt treatment of any problems will ensure success in breastfeeding for both you and your child.