Although breastfeeding can be a beautiful experience, it can also come with some not-so-beautiful challenges. From engorgement to over or under-supply and even mastitis, there are just some things that new parents would love to avoid if possible.
What is mastitis?
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast tissue, often caused by a blocked milk duct in breastfeeding mothers. As a result, some of the milk can get banked up behind the blockage and be forced into the nearby breast tissue, causing inflammation to the area. Infection may or may not be present.
What are the symptoms of mastitis when breastfeeding?
- Breast tenderness: The affected breast may be tender to the touch and feel warm or hot.
- Swelling: The breast may appear swollen and feel lumpy or hard.
- Redness: The affected area of the breast may appear red or have a reddish-pink hue.
- Pain: You may experience a sharp or burning pain in the breast that can become worse when breastfeeding or pumping.
- Fever: A fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher is a common symptom of mastitis.
- Chills: You may experience chills or feel cold and shivery.
- Fatigue: You may feel exhausted or run-down, even if you’re getting enough sleep.
- Flu-like symptoms: Some women may experience flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches, headache, and nausea.
It’s important to seek medical attention if you experience these symptoms, as untreated mastitis can lead to complications such as a breast abscess. Your healthcare provider can help diagnose mastitis and provide you with the appropriate treatment.
What are mastitis symptoms and treatment?
As mentioned above, early mastitis symptoms can make you feel as if you are getting the flu, complete with shivers and aches. Some people who do not have any early signs of a blocked duct, get mastitis ‘out of the blue’. This involves the breast being sore like it is with a blocked duct but is it also usually red and swollen, hot and painful. The skin may be also shiny and there may be red streaks.
You may need to take a course of antibiotics if there is an infection present. Be sure to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if you start to feel better before finishing the medication. Over the counter pain relief such as ibuprofen can help to relieve pain and discomfort.
What else can you do?
- Rest as much as you can
- Keep the sore breast as empty as possible by feeding your baby often or pumping
- Apply warmth to the sore breast for up to a few minutes before a feed
- Feed from the sore breast first, when your baby’s sucking is stronger
- Massage the breast gently while your baby feeds
- Change feeding positions to help shift the blockage
- Talk to a breastfeeding counsellor for ideas on other feeding positions
- Hand express if needed, before, after and between feeds
- Cold packs after a feed may help relieve pain and reduce swelling
Early treatment will mean you get better faster, you will feel less ill and you will be at less risk of a breast abscess.
To try to avoid the onset of mastitis, there are a few steps you can take:
- Ensure your baby is latching properly and feeding well
- Breastfeed your baby as often as your baby wants to feed
- Avoid missing or putting off feeds
- If a breast becomes uncomfortably full, wake your baby for a feed or use a breast pump
- If your baby is not interested in feeding, you may like to express a small amount for comfort
- Avoid putting pressure on your breasts eg with clothing or with your fingers while feeding
- Rest as much as you can
- Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands frequently and keep your breasts clean and dry to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Alternate from which breast you begin each feed. This can help ensure at least one breast gets drained well at every second feed
- Treat nipple problems: Promptly address any issues with sore or cracked nipples to prevent infection