Can you breastfeed if you have MRSA?

Some breastfeeding mothers contract mastitis, a breast infection. One of the most common causes of mastitis is a MRSA infection.
Some breastfeeding mothers contract mastitis, a breast infection. One of the most common causes of mastitis is a MRSA infection.
Julia Wheeler and Veronika Laws/Getty Images

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of staph infection that's resistant to many antibiotics. It's typically contracted in facilities such as hospitals and other health care settings. Breastfeeding mothers can be predisposed to developing MRSA (pronounced "mer-suh"), and many moms are understandably concerned about spreading the infection to their infant via nursing. Before we dive into the specifics, let's review the basics of MRSA.

A strain of the common staph bacteria, MRSA occurs on the skin or inside the nose. Sometimes confused with spider bites, MRSA usually starts with red bumps like a pimple or a boil that quickly becomes inflamed, swollen and painful. It is highly contagious, so if you believe you may have MRSA, make sure that you — or anyone who touches your wound — wash your hands thoroughly after contact.

MRSA can also spread via contaminated bed linens, medical tools or bathroom fixtures. This is why you see signs touting the importance of hand washing everywhere in hospital and medical settings. Recently, MRSA has been spreading in community settings as well [source: MRSA Research Center].

MRSA can affect you in two ways: colonization and infection. Colonizing bacteria are hanging out on your skin but not actively causing symptoms or infections. If you have an infection, those bacteria are multiplying on your skin and causing symptoms [source: Intermountain Healthcare].

See a medical professional as soon as possible if you believe you may have a staph infection or even if you've been exposed to MRSA. An out-of-control staph infection can cause severe health issues, including:

  • Organ failure
  • Necrosis (tissue death)
  • Nervous system infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Sinus infections
  • Toxic shock syndrome
  • Endocarditis (heart infection)
  • Blood poisoning
  • Blood clots

If you are diagnosed with MRSA, the infection does respond to a limited number of antibiotics. Additionally, if the infection is abscessed, your doctor can drain it. With proper treatment and quick medical intervention, you can get rid of a normal MRSA infection in about 10 days [source: MRSA Research Center]. Of course, this varies from person to person.

This all seems a little scary, so let's talk about how to keep from getting MRSA in the first place:

  • Keep your hands clean and always wash them thoroughly.
  • Keep scrapes and cuts covered and clean until healed.
  • Don't touch other people's wounds or dirty bandages.
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, razors, linens, nail clippers, clothing or sheets.

To avoid spreading MRSA, take the following precautions:

  • Keep your wound covered and clean until it heals.
  • Ensure anyone in close contact with you washes his or her hands thoroughly and frequently — especially after changing a bandage on your wound.
  • Do not share any of your personal items with anyone.

If you're hospitalized while you have MRSA — such as after giving birth — your medical professionals will advise you on the correct care. So what do you do if you're nursing?