Ten Tips for Breast Health

With American Thanksgiving and the December holidays fast approaching, does it make me a Grinch if I point out that ’tis the season for breast infections? As exciting and fun as the holidays are, they can be stressful, too. For nursing mothers, that stress can translate into plugged ducts and mastitis. Here are ten tips to help prevent breast infections this holiday season:

1. Wash your hands often. What does hand-washing have to do with breast infections? Frequent hand-washing can reduce the number of respiratory illnesses you contract by up to 45 percent. Bouts of colds and flu wear down nursing mothers, making them vulnerable to breast infections (particularly if the children are sick too and the whole household isn’t getting enough sleep).

2. Consider getting a flu shot. If you vaccinate, add the flu shot to your list for you and your children for the very reasons stated in Tip #1. Influenza also can leave a mother dehydrated, which in turn can lead to plugged ducts.

3. Get enough rest. With holiday travel, festivities, and the whole family sleeping in your parents’ spare room, it can be difficult to get adequate sleep. Plan ahead for time differences (decide whether to keep your kids on their schedule or slowly adjust them to any time change in advance). Keep in mind that “rest” does not have to mean “sleep.” Get some rest by retreating to a quiet bedroom to nurse in the side-lying position in bed.

4. Stay hydrated. Holiday travel by airplane can be dehydrating, and dehydration is a factor in breast infections. After you go through the airport security checkpoint, buy some water to drink on the plane. Also, if you indulge responsibly in a holiday cocktail, make sure to drink enough water to counter the dehydrating effects of alcohol.

5. Say “No.” Don’t overextend yourself this holiday season. Volunteer to bake cookies, chaperone your child’s school party, or host the neighborhood social gathering, but not all three.

6. Say “Yes.” If your mother-in-law generously offers to cook a meal while she’s staying with you for the holidays, gladly accept her help! (Guess who cooked the roast last year at my house!)

7. Exercise. Exercise boosts your immune system, so make an extra stroller lap around the mall as you shop or take a swim in the hotel pool.

8. Remember to nurse! It may sound silly but with the excitement and distraction of holiday festivities, a nursling may not ask to nurse as much and a mother may forget to offer. It’s important to nurse regularly and not let your breasts become engorged.

9. Read more. If you’re prone to breast infections, read this article on recurrent mastitis or plugged ducts.

10. Pay attention to warning signs. If you do show signs of a plugged duct (redness, swelling, tenderness) or mastitis (plugged duct symptoms plus fever and flu-like symptoms), start treatment right away. The sooner a plugged duct is resolved the less likely it is to progress into mastitis, and the sooner mastitis is resolved the less likely it is to progress into a breast abscess. Continue to nurse on the problem side.

Happy and healthy holidays!

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