Mastitis – what on earth is that??
At least I had never heard of it before I started breastfeeding. But then… I heard about it all the time and I was very scared to get it.
I felt like – wait; I have just gone through giving birth (pain), started to breastfeed (pain) and now I have to worry about mastitis (more pain…)!
This breast infection is not nice, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare either. For now, let me give you the in depth look at this not-so-nice-but-common condition among new, breastfeeding moms and what you can do to prevent and treat it.
What is it?
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast that is common among breastfeeding mothers, especially during the first two months of nursing. It is not a dangerous condition, but you may very well feel really sick if it hits you bad. Fortunately, it will go away quickly with the right treatment.
Mastitis during breastfeeding is usually caused by breast engorgement (i.e. swelling breast because it hasn’t been emptied), blocked milk ducts or cracked skin on or around the nipple (allowing bacteria to enter the milk ducts).
Along with everything else you don’t need, you might find yourself going through one or more of the following symptoms:
- Painful lumps in your breast(s)
- Pain while breastfeeding
- Breast hardness
If you’re nodding your head in agreement and cursing while you’re reading this, chances are you have mastitis. Since antibiotics may be necessary, you should probably consult your doctor, especially the first time you are experiencing this. Later on, you’re likely to be an expert in acting quickly at the early warning signs, reducing the risk of a serious infection.
If you have shooting pain in your breast and no lumps, you may have a yeast infection, called breast or nipple thrush, which you can read about here.
There are some things that you can do to prevent mastitis.
Make sure that you take care of any blockages or plugged ducts right away. Having an obstruction will keep your milk from flowing properly, and this can lead to mastitis. Plugged milk ducts feel like lumps that are just beginning to be tender. Feed your baby or pump and gently massage the lumps. And take a hot bath or shower.
Feed your baby regularly. There is no need for you to limit the feeding times, or have a set schedule to feed on. Feed your baby until he stops sucking. You can also feed him when you feel your breasts getting full. You don’t have to wait until he is screaming like a banshee. This will help reduce the chances of becoming sick.
A great little trick I learned from my midwife was to place your baby so that his cheek was in the same direction as the most painful lump in your breast. This way he will primarily suckle the milk ducts that are clogged. This trick works both for preventing mastitis – that is use it the minute you notice a tender lump in your breast – or for treating the condition.
Keep a Lanolin type ointment on hand for nipples. Or wet them with some breast milk after the feedings. Then let your nipples dry before covering up again. This will reduce cracks and sores that might be an entry point for infection.
While it hasn’t been scientifically proven, many moms claim that exposing their breasts to cold draft is a certain way to get this breast infection. Something to think about particularly when breastfeeding outside. Wear a blanket and find shelter from the wind.
I Keep Getting it. Why?
There are a couple of reasons why you might have recurring mastitis.
One of them could be from not feeding or pumping regularly. If you are supplementing breast feeding with bottle feeding, you may increase your chances of developing this condition. When your breasts feel full, pump or feed your baby to reduce the chances.
Also, it might be an indication that your immune system is a bit run down. You may need to take extra good care of yourself as far as nutrition, sleep and rest. It is great to focus a lot of attention on your baby, but for your baby to stay healthy, you must stay healthy as well.
The most effective thing for mastitis is to continue breastfeeding your baby. This will help the condition go away, and reduce the chance for further complications. Start with the other breast if the infected one hurts too much or if your baby rejects the infected breast.
As described above, make sure your baby suckles so that his cheek is as close as possible to the tender lump. Do this even if your baby has to have his feet against your forehead or some other weird position. Lie down on your side if you have to and ask someone to help you place your baby in the right position.
Sleeping with a warm wheat bag close to your breasts can also do miracles. (Works for prevention to!)
If possible, if your breasts don’t leak too much, consider sleeping without a bra and don’t sleep on your stomach. (Don’t do this even after the pain has started to fade away.)
Gently massaging the lumps while taking a really hot shower is also good.
Another remedy is to alternate between holding cool and warm compresses to the affected breast.
Take Acetamenophin or Ibuprofin for fever and pain. These are fine for taking while you’re breastfeeding, and can help you feel a little better.
Finally, remember that you are sick! You really need to rest – do all you can to have someone help you take care of your baby. Drink a lot of water and eat well to help you immune system fight off the infection.
When Should I call the Doctor?
You may need to get in touch with your doctor if the condition worsens, or you feel like you are getting worse and not better. If your fever is getting worse, and you feel nauseous or unable to function, you should call your doctor. This might mean that you have an infection which needs to be treated with antibiotics.
If you’re not feeling sick, your fever is not rising and you feel that breastfeeding, resting etc really makes a different; you can probably get rid of the mastitis without antibiotics.
However, a breast infection that isn’t treated can become a breast abscess that requires surgical draining. So don’t walk around for more than a day or two without getting better. Call the doctor in such case.
This breast infection really isn’t fun at all. But most moms become less prone to get it over time and also become more skilled in stopping it before it turns really bad. If you are suffering from mastitis or have tip son how to get rid of it, please share your experiences in the Comments section below.