Newborns Breastfeeding Infections

At a time when all my colleagues were having babies, the break room hummed with breast pumps. Up to seven women were eating lunches, shirts arched above their breasts while machines worked at gathering milk. At the time, I was single and didn’t understand the need for the pump. Didn’t the breast store the milk at the right temperature? Couldn’t the mother just return home, full of milk and feed her baby?

Breast Pumps Help Prevent Engorgement

I didn’t understand the internal clock that breastfeeding creates. When the milk comes in two to five days after the birth of the baby, it comes in full and fast. The newborn baby may not require the amount of milk that fills the breast. If the breast overfills it can become engorged.

Engorgement can lead to tenderness, swelling and breast pain. If the breast is too engorged the baby may have difficulty latching onto the nipple. Sometimes the mother must pump out some of the milk to relieve breast pain and swelling so the baby is able to breastfeed. As the baby continues to breastfeed the mother’s body adjusts and the breast produces the right amount of milk.

Plugged Milk Ducts

Some complications can occur when a mother is breastfeeding. Extreme engorgement can lead to plugged milk ducts and breast pain. Using a combination of breastfeeding positions can help prevent plugged milk ducts.

Severe breast pain may be an indication that the milk duct has become plugged. If this is the case, continue to breastfeed using the painful breast first. Plugged milk ducts need to become unplugged and one of the easiest ways to unplug them is to have your baby breastfeed with the strongest suction. Other remedies include massaging the affected area and applying hot compresses (or taking a hot shower).

Thrush Infection

Thrush, an infection caused by the yeast Candida albicans, is a common cause of sore nipples. When improper positioning, plugged milk ducts and other minor causes of breast pain have been ruled out, thrush is most likely the cause. In addition to sore nipples a mother infected with thrush may experience shooting pains while breastfeeding, flakey, itchy or burning nipples. In most when a breastfeeding mother is diagnosed with thrush, her baby is diagnosed with oral thrush. A topical antifungal agent is usually prescribed.


A more serious breast infection known as mastitis may occur if milk ducts remain plugged for an extended period of time and become infected with bacteria. Another cause of mastitis is nipple tenderness and dryness. Bacteria can enter through cracks in the skin and multiply. Mastitis is characterized by breast pain, swelling and redness of the breast. Fever and flu-like symptoms are other common symptoms for mastitis.

Treating Breast Infections

As with plugged milk ducts, the best treatment for mastitis is to continue breastfeeding. This keeps fresh milk flowing to the baby. Alternating cold compresses for breast pain relief with hot compresses to increase circulation as well as massaging the area are effective remedies.

Get extra rest and drink plenty of fluids. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can safely relieve some of the pain. If you suspect mastitis, see your doctor right away. If mastitis progresses it may require antibiotic therapy to prevent the onset of a more serious breast infection or abscess. Breast abscesses require more substantive treatment including antibiotics and surgical drainage.

Preventing Breast Infections

Mastitis and other breast infections can be prevented with good breastfeeding techniques. Feeding the baby in different positions encourages drainage of all milk ducts. Wearing a nursing bra helps to support the breast. Frequent feedings and attention to baby’s eating habits encourage routine emptying of breast milk.


American Academy of Family Physicians. (updated 2003). Breast feeding: Hints to help you get off to a good start.

American Academy of Pediatrics. (updated 2004). A woman’s guide to breastfeeding.

Ask (nd). Mastitis.