Some breastfeeding mothers contract mastitis, a breast infection. This inflammation of the mammary glands occurs in about one-third of breastfeeding women [source: Rubolino-Gallego]. One of the most common causes of mastitis is a MRSA infection, when bacteria have entered the breast tissue, usually via cracked skin on the nipple.
Symptoms of mastitis include pain, fever and flu-like symptoms. Women with mastitis are urged to breastfeed frequently and pump afterward to ensure the breasts are completely empty of milk. Typically, regular mastitis clears up with mild antibiotics. However, MRSA-induced mastitis may require wound aspiration or abscess drainage, depending on the severity of the infection.
Mothers with MRSA should continue breastfeeding their babies [source: Intermountain Healthcare]. Breast milk, especially in the first six weeks, is the best and healthiest nourishment for infants. Remember, MRSA spreads via skin contact. If one breast is infected, the mother should simply nurse from the healthy breast and pump out the milk from the infected breast until it heals.
The only time a doctor may advise against breastfeeding is if the baby is in neo-natal intensive care. Additionally, some antibiotics given for MRSA aren't great for nursing moms and their babies. Doctors can work with nursing mothers to use antibiotics that are safe for both mom and baby.
Nursing mothers should follow their own MRSA-prevention checklist:
- Ensure your milk is fully drained after breastfeeding to avoid clogged milk ducts.
- Alternate your breasts at each feeding.
- Avoid long periods between nursing.
- Avoid rapid weaning.
- Avoid underwire bras, as they can cause rubbing and sores through which bacteria can enter.
If you do have MRSA, take the same precautions you would take with anyone else. Ensure your wound is always clean and covered and does not make contact with your baby. If your baby shows any sign of infection, take him or her to a medical professional. Keep an eye out for any redness, blisters or swelling around the area of the umbilical cord [source: Intermountain Healthcare].
A 2013 experiment at the University of Buffalo indicated that a protein in breast milk might actually weaken MRSA cells [sources: Marks et al., Rice]. In Petri dishes and animal experiments, a protein-lipid complex in human breast milk has been shown to kill or weaken bacteria. Termed human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cells (HAMLET), this complex may also increase the effectiveness of other antibiotics.
The implications of this study mean that people infected with MRSA may not have to take such strong antibiotics in the future. The benefit of HAMLET is two-fold: It prevents more superbugs from forming from overuse of antibiotics, and it keeps nursing infants from having to ingest antibiotics that might cause them to suffer upset stomachs.
At its best, MRSA is a nasty infection. At its worst, it can be life threatening. If your infection is under control and you take necessary precautions, it is completely safe — and recommended — to breastfeed your infant even if you have MRSA. But, as always, check with your doctor or pediatrician.