Postpartum Problems (cont.)

Mastitis, or breast infection, usually is indicated by a tender, reddened area on the breast (the entire breast may also be involved). Breast infections -- which can be brought on by bacteria and lowered defenses resulting from stress, exhaustion or cracked nipples -- may be accompanied by fever, chills, fatigue, headache and/or nausea and vomiting. Any of these symptoms should be reported to your doctor, who may recommend treatment with antibiotics.

If you have a breast infection, you may continue to nurse from both breasts. Mastitis does not affect your breast milk. It's also important to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Warm, wet towels applied to the affected area may help alleviate discomfort; and cold compresses applied after nursing can help reduce congestion in your breast. You may also want to avoid constricting bras and clothing.

Clogged Ducts

Clogged milk ducts, which can cause redness, pain, swelling or a lump in the breast, can mimic mastitis. However, unlike breast infections, caked, clogged or plugged ducts are not accompanied by flu-like symptoms.

Breast massage; frequent nursing until the breast is emptied; and warm, moist packs applied to the sore area several times a day may solve the problem. However, if you have a lump that does not respond quickly to home treatment, consult your doctor.

Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are the striations that appear on many women's breasts, thighs, hips and abdomen during pregnancy. These reddish marks, which are caused by hormonal changes and stretching skin, may become more noticeable after delivery. Although they may never disappear completely, they will fade considerably over time. While many women purchase special creams, lotions and oils to help prevent and erase stretch marks, there is little evidence that they work. About half of women develop stretch marks during pregnancy, regardless of whether or not they have used any topical ointments.

Hemorrhoids and Constipation

Hemorrhoids and constipation, which can be aggravated by the pressure of the enlarged uterus and fetus on the lower abdomen veins, are both quite common in pregnant and postpartum women. Over-the-counter ointments and sprays, accompanied by a diet rich in fiber and fluids, usually can help reduce constipation and the swelling of hemorrhoids. Warm sitz baths followed by a cold compress also can offer some relief. An inflatable, donut-shaped pillow, which can be purchased at any drugstore, can help ease discomfort caused by sitting.

Do not use laxatives, suppositories or enemas without asking your doctor, especially if you've had an episiotomy or have stitches in the perineal area.

Urinary and Fecal Incontinence

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