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  • Post last modified:January 30, 2022
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Mastitis when breastfeeding is common. It is an inflammation of the breast tissue that sometimes develops into an infection.

Mastitis can be painful. You’ll want to prevent it as much as possible and treat it quickly if you get it.
Let’s go through how to deal with mastitis in the best possible way.

mastitis when breastfeeding

Your Guide to Mastitis When Breastfeeding

What is Mastitis?

How to prevent and treat mastitisMastitis is an inflammation of the breast. It can be seen as swelling, redness, warmth, or tenderness of the breast. Sometimes, milk doesn’t come out properly. It is common during the first six months of breastfeeding, especially from ten days up to six weeks after giving birth.

It is not typically a dangerous condition, but you may feel really sick if it hits you badly. Fortunately, it will go away quickly with the right treatment.

What Causes Mastitis?

Mastitis is commonly due to breastfeeding (so called lactational mastitis). As many as 20 % of breastfeeding moms develop mastitis at some point; this is usually during the second to third weeks of breastfeeding.

Mastitis is usually caused by breast engorgement (i.e. swelling breast because it hasn’t been emptied), or cracked skin on or around the nipple (allowing bacteria to enter the milk ducts).

Research indicates that moms had an increased risk of developing mastitis if they reported nipple damage (like cracked nipples), an oversupply of breast milk, use of nipple shields, or expressing breast milk throughout the day.

The presence of bacteria, such as Staphylococcus. aureus, Escherichia coli and Group A streptococcus, on the nipple or in breast milk itself increases the risk of developing mastitis . A fungal infection with Candida albicans is also another possible cause.

Although breast engorgement and plugged ducts are both different conditions from mastitis, they are risk factors for developing mastitis itself.

Other risk factors include the presence of a cleft lip or palate in your baby, a tongue tie in your baby (a short frenulum), difficulties with latching, frequently missed periods for breastfeeding, using a tight bra, and poor nutrition due to the mother’s diet.

Whatever you do, unless your doctor explicitly advises you to, don’t stop breastfeeding if you suspect that your breast is infected! Things will only get worse and breastfeeding actually helps the condition to clear up.

Mastitis Symptoms

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology note that some characteristics of mastitis are the following:

  • sudden development of symptoms
  • usually affects one breast most of the time
  • warm to touch, red and swollen
  • intense breast pain, but only on a certain area (localized)
  • fever (101°F (38.4 C) and higher)
  • flu-like symptoms may be present (body weakness, chills, nausea, vomiting)

If you’re nodding your head in agreement and cursing while you’re reading this, chances are that you have mastitis.
Since antibiotics are often necessary, it is best to consult your doctor as soon as possible, but continue breastfeeding on the affected breast.

Later on, you’re likely to be an expert in acting quickly at the early warning signs and treat mastitis naturally, 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.

Can you get mastitis without breastfeeding?

Yes, it’s possible to have mastitis even if you aren’t breastfeeding, and even if you haven’t recently given birth. It can also develop in men!

Some causes of nonlactational mastitis include breast implants, nipple piercing, smoking or nicotine addiction, eczema, diabetes, chronic infections like tuberculosis, people who have lumpectomies with radiotherapy, and those who have a weakened immune system (immunocompromised).

Other possible diagnoses

Mastitis is often confused for breast engorgement or plugged milk ducts.

In breast engorgement, symptoms gradually develop and both breasts are usually involved. There’s pain, swelling and warmth, although fever is low-grade (less than 101°F) and moms usually feel well.

In plugged milk ducts, symptoms also gradually develop and are commonly seen after breastfeeding periods. Like mastitis, it affects one breast only, but pain is mild and sometimes tolerable. Fever episodes barely reach above 101°F, and like engorgement, moms don’t feel too ill.

How can you tell the difference between mastitis and breast abscess?

Breast abscesses develop when mastitis is not diagnosed or treated quickly – it’s a recorded complication in up to 11% of lactating moms.

Breast abscesses are also painful, and present with fever and body weakness. The breast is swollen, red and tender as well. What sets this apart is the development of a lump that feels fluid-filled (called fluctuation). Moms may also feel enlarged lymph nodes near the armpit area.

How to Prevent Mastitis

There are some things that you can do to prevent mastitis when breastfeeding.

Double-check the breastfeeding position, latch, and timing

Check if there are any issues with breastfeeding. You can set an appointment with a lactation consultant to double check any problems with your breastfeeding position, your baby’s position, the latching and unlatching process, and timing (including night feedings).

Take care of plugged ducts

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 more frequently or pump milk out while gently massaging the lumps. You can also take a warm bath or shower.

Frequent feeding

Feed your baby regularly and frequently. There is no need for you to limit the feeding times, or have a set schedule to feed on. Although the expected breastfeeding duration is 10-15 minutes per breast, you may continue feeding your baby until they stop sucking. You can also try feeding them when you feel your breasts getting full. Lastly, watch out for your baby’s hunger cues. You shouldn’t wait until your baby is screaming like a banshee.

A breastfeeding position to mitigate lumps

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 or she will primarily suckle the milk ducts that are clogged. This trick works both for preventing engorgement and mastitis, as well as treating these conditions.

Prevent nipple cracks

Prevent your nipples from cracking or damage. Keep lanolin ointment on hand for nipples, or apply some breast milk after feedings. Let your nipples dry before covering up again. This will reduce cracks and sores that might be an entry point for infection.

Watch out for cold draft

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 Mastitis. 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 breastfeeding with bottle feeding, you may increase your chances of developing this condition. When your breasts feel full, pump the milk out (you can store your milk for future use) 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 in terms of 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.

Does Mastitis go away on its own? What happens if mastitis doesn’t go away with antibiotics or is left untreated?

Mastitis most often doesn’t go away on its own. It should be treated with antibiotics. If left alone (or without medical management), it could lead to complications, such as breast abscesses. These are harder to treat and may need special procedures to be managed well, like drainage or surgery.

One rare cause for persistent mastitis is inflammatory breast cancer. This is why it’s important to be checked by a healthcare provider – to avoid the development of these conditions, and to quickly diagnose and manage them should they appear.

How to treat Mastitis

So how do you actually treat mastitis? Managing mastitis involves a combination of both medical and non-medical remedies:

Continue breastfeeding

The most effective thing for mastitis is to continue breastfeeding your baby (make sure that your breastfeeding technique is correct though!). This will help the illness resolve 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 that your baby suckles so that his or her cheek is as close as possible to the tender lump. Do this even if your baby has to have their 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.

Selfcare and pain killers

Take care of yourself. Drink lots of fluids and get some valuable time to rest. Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and pain. These are fine for taking while you’re breastfeeding and can help you feel a little better.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are often essential to treat mastitis: your doctor or healthcare provider will prescribe the most commonly used antibiotics for mastitis. If necessary, they may request a culture of expressed milk to determine the specific bacterial cause of mastitis. This way, they can adjust the antibiotic if needed.

If antibiotics is prescribed, make sure to complete your full course of antibiotics even if you start feeling better.

Sleep without a bra

If possible, if your breasts don’t leak too much, consider sleeping without a bra and don’t sleep on your stomach (even after the pain has started to fade away).

Gentle massage

According to La Leche League International, gently massaging the lumps while taking a warm shower or while breastfeeding can help. Then, you can apply ice packs after feedings.

Warm compresses

Another remedy is to apply a warm or slightly hot compress to the affected breast before breastfeeding starts. Some mothers soak their breast in a tub or basin of warm water for 10 minutes three times a day.

These remedies and rest should help your mastitis go away quickly and without further complications.

How long can mastitis last?

As long as mastitis is treated properly, it can typically last for up to 5 days, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. However, symptoms lasting for 10 days or even up to three weeks is possible.

Can mastitis make a baby fussy?

Usually, babies can continue feeding with the infected breast. However, some babies notice a change in the taste of the milk, but this doesn’t mean it’s dangerous to feed them breastmilk. If you find your child is fussy, then feed them with the unaffected breast, and focus on draining milk from the infected one.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

First, you should contact your doctor when you get symptoms, to make sure the mastitis is propoerly diagnosed and treated.

Then, 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 symptoms are getting worse despite medical treatment, you should call your doctor.

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 when breastfeeding or have tips on how to treat mastitis at home, please share your experiences in the Comments section below.

Related Breastfeeding Info

Research References for Mastitis when Breastfeeding

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Sarah

    The best trick I learned (and I have tried everything!) was to use a – this is going to sound really weird – a vibrator on my breast. I have a back vibrator that I got at Rite Aid and every time I have a lump I get it out and vibrate the lump and it usually goes away within the day. It looks ridiculous and my husband makes fun of me but it works! You can also use the bottom of an electric tooth brush!

  2. Stephanie Cole

    Thanks for this helpful tips on treating mastitis, you can also try taking in probiotics. There’s probiotics called qiara that is proven and tested by many. Thank you