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Increased blood flow to the breasts and milk accumulation can cause your breasts to become swollen a few days following the birth of your baby. The swelling typically lessons in a day or two, but it can cause discomfort and difficulty with milk letdown for some mothers. Engorgement can be treated by nursing frequently, pumping or manually expressing milk from your breasts to soften your areolas and nipples, or applying cold compresses after nursing.
A common problem for mothers, cracked nipples are usually caused by improper positioning, latch-on or removal from the breast. Cracked nipples can be avoided by following guidelines for positioning the baby during feedings, correcting improper latch-on, and always breaking the baby's suction with your finger before removing your baby from your breast. If your nipples do become cracked, ask your physician or lactation consultant about applying lanolin to your nipples. Breast pads can be worn in your bra to prevent the lanolin from getting on your bra.
Nipple soreness usually occurs a few days into breastfeeding, but should stop by about the end of your first week. Continued soreness is typically due to improper positioning, latch-on and removal of the baby from your breast. By correcting these things, you can solve the sore nipple problem.
Blocked ducts feel like pea-size lumps in the breast, and they are typically very sore when touched. There are a few factors that can cause blocked ducts, including improper positioning of the baby during feedings; heavy, poorly supported breasts; wearing a bra that is too tight or that puts pressure on a duct; or an overabundance of milk. To treat blocked ducts, be sure to nurse frequently and pump or hand express excess milk after feedings. Taking a warm shower or applying a warm compress can help soothe the area. Try to position the baby so her chin is facing the blockage while feeding, so that suction is concentrated toward the blocked duct. A persistent blocked duct can lead to a serious infection called mastitis.
A blocked duct can sometimes develop into a breast infection. The tissue around the blocked duct becomes infected, but the breast milk does not. The infection is called mastitis, and it requires immediate medical attention.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your physician immediately:
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever and chills
- A large area of pink or red-streaked breast tissue
- Very sore, hard area of the breast
Your physician may prescribe an antibiotic; be sure to finish taking the entire prescription. Be sure to nurse frequently and pump or hand express excess milk after feedings. Taking a warm shower or applying a warm compress can help soothe the area. Try to position the baby so his chin is facing the blockage while feeding, so that suction is concentrated toward the blocked duct. Get plenty of rest, and drink a lot of fluids.