Mastitis while breastfeeding feels like death overtook you. Breastfeeding is supposed to be an enjoyable experience for mothers, but mastitis turns it into a nightmare. When coupled with a fever and chills, mastitis feels like you have flu, and you still have to take care of your baby, which can be challenging.
You might have heard of mastitis and the horror stories that follow. It typically affects only one breast, leading to swelling, redness, and pain. It sucks, really it does.
While mastitis is pretty horrible, it is preventable and treatable. Moms need to know what is mastitis, how to treat it, and how to prevent future mastitis infections.
According to definition, mastitis is the engorgement of the breasts because of the accumulation of milk inside of your breasts. It leads to a bacterial infection inside of your milk ducts, creating infective mastitis.
Mastitis while breastfeeding is called lactation mastitis, also referred to as puerperal mastitis, and it happens to breastfeeding mothers.
Around 10% of breastfeeding mothers develop mastitis at some point, but its most common during the first six months of lactation. The risk is the highest during the first three months after delivery, but the risk is there for however long you decide to breastfeed. 6 to 12 weeks offers the largest risk, and that’s mostly because your supply is going up and down, trying to accommodate your baby.
What Causes Mastitis While Breastfeeding?
Milk stasis develops when breast milk is kept in the breast too long causing the milk ducts to become blocked, leading to lactation mastitis. The milk in these blocked milk ducts spill into the surrounding breast tissue, which causes an autoimmune system response.
Your immune system discovers the milk protection, assuming that its a bacterial or viral protein. At this point, your immune system isn’t happy, and it leads to an inflammatory attack on the so-called invader, leading to swelling.
If you have a sore or cracked nipple, bacteria, such as Staphylococcus and Streptococcus, can slip inside of those cracks. Bacteria leads to an infected milk duct.
What Causes Milk Retention in the Breasts?
So, none of this will take place if the milk isn’t retained inside of the breast. Here are a few causes of milk retention.
1. Incorrect Latch
Perhaps the biggest issue is a baby who isn’t latching correctly onto the breast. If your baby isn’t latching correctly, he may not be able to feed properly and he might not transfer enough milk from your breast. This leads to milk retention in the breast. An incorrect latch can be caused by a tongue tie in the baby or the mother being unable to latch the baby properly.
2. Missing Feeds Frequently
Missing one feeding isn’t a huge deal, but if you miss several feedings or it happens frequently, it can cause your milk not to drain.
3. Favoring One Breast
Some babies favor one breast over the other one. My last baby thinks my left boob is amazing and tries to resist the right one. Favoring a specific breast can cause retention of milk in the other breast, leading to mastitis. Make sure you pump that breast if your baby won’t latch as often.
4. Weaning Quickly
Whether you have to wean quickly because of choice or other circumstances, quickly weaning leads to milk stasis. Your breast didn’t have a way to drain all that milk it’s producing. Slowly weaning is the better choice if possible.
5. Pressure on the Breast
If you wear an improperly fitting bra or tight clothing, it can cause unnecessary stress onto the breast tissue. The pressure narrows the milk ducts, making it harder for your baby to drain your breast entirely during suckling, causing milk retention.
6. Breast Injury
If you were hit hard on the breast or had an accident, the injury might rupture a milk duct. This can lead to inflammation and infection.
What is The Mastitis Symptoms?
Are you wondering how you know if you have mastitis? You have to look for symptoms and signs of mastitis. You’ll know something is wrong!
How is Mastitis Diagnosed?
To properly diagnose mastitis, you need to head to the doctor, who can prescribe you medication if needed. You can expect your doctor to do a few things, such as:
Is It Any Risk Factors of Mastitis?
While much of mastitis is due to milk stasis, a few conditions and lifestyle choices can increase the likelihood of lactation mastitis.
The Differences Between a Clogged Duct and Mastitis
Clogged ducts and mastitis have similarities, but key differences tell them apart. With both mastitis and a clogged duct, you will notice a tender, hard area on your breast that hurts when you press on it, but with mastitis, the area will be larger. Mastitis causes your breast to feel warm or hot, turn red, or swollen; clogged ducts do not.
Also with mastitis, you have a general feeling of illness, complete with a fever and body aches. It feels like you have the flu. Clogged ducts do none of this.
What Happens If You Don’t Treat Mastitis?
Mastitis isn’t something that you just want to leave untreated; it’s an infection after all. Mastitis left untreated can lead to a breast abscess caused by the white blood cells attacking the pathogen that caused the mastitis. It can lead to a painful accumulation of pus.
If you do have a breast abscess, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics, but that may not be enough to treat it. In those cases, your doctor may have lance the abscess to remove the rest of the pus. An ultrasound may be used to determine the extent of the abscess. Sometimes, the removal requires minor surgery and local anesthesia to remove it all.
11 Best Ways To Mastitis Treatment When Breastfeeding
Antibiotics are the typical treatment for mastitis, but we discuss that further down. Aside from antibiotics, moms can do several things to help speed up the healing process and easing the symptoms. Here are a few treatments for mastitis breastfeeding that you can do at home.
1. Emptying Your Breasts
Perhaps one of the most important things to do while treating mastitis is to drain your breasts. The best way to do this is to let the infant breastfeed as often as desired. You will want to speak to a lactation consultant. They may recommend that you express or pump as well, especially if your baby has problems expressing milk efficiently.
Your body is fighting an infection, so you need to give your body the chance to rest to feel better. Bedrest gives your body and immune system the chance to recover and fight off the infection.
3. Increase Fluids
Staying hydrated while you’re sick is a must-do! Drink plenty of fluids while resting and draining your breasts totally. Hydration is particularly important if you have a fever as well as other symptoms.
Before you breastfeed your baby, massage your breasts gently. Doing so helps to stimulate the movement of the milk towards the nipple, and this is very helpful if you have inflammation that prevents the milk from free flowing.
5. Make Sure Baby is Latching Right
You need to bring baby to breast often to drain your breasts, so you need to make sure your baby’s latch is correct. Each time you latch your baby, double check his latch and how it feels. Get ahold of a lactation consultant to help!
6. Avoid Tight Bras
Remember that pressure on the breast can cause mastitis, so you need to get rid of all those right bras. Pick loose clothing that won’t constrict your breasts. Go braless as often as you can to reduce the pressure on your breasts while you’re trying to heal.
7. Let Your Nipple Air Dry
Give that nipple some air time after breastfeeding! Once you’re done feeding, let your nippe air dry. It might feel and seem weird to you, but it helps to reduce the likelihood of bacterial contamination because of leftover milk around the nipple.
8. Cabbage Leaves
You need to be careful with this remedy because cabbage leaves have a chemical that can decrease your milk supply. Weaning mothers are often told to put cabbage leaves in their bra. For mastitis, you can do the same but don’t do it as often. A cold cabbage leaf over the infected duct feels amazing.
9. Raw Garlic
Garlic might not be the best thing for your baby’s tummy, but garlic battles infections. Add some extra garlic to your food or try to stomach a spoonful of minced garlic. It’s not yummy, but many people consider garlic to be nature’s own antibiotic due to its potency.
10. Take Pain Medicine
Mastitis isn’t comfortable. It’s downright painful, so taking some pain medicine can get you the relief you so badly need. You can safely take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) while breastfeeding. Make sure you read the dosage instruction on the label.
11. Warm, Wet Compresses
Apply a warm, wet compress to the area. You can also try an ice pack if you think it feels better; ice helps to reduce swelling. You need to keep the ice off of your breast directly.
When to Take Antibiotics for Mastitis While Breastfeeding
Once mastitis because of an infection, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic course to manage it. Mild cases can be resolved within 12 to 18 days.
If you don’t start to notice an improvement in 24 hours or you start to feel very sick, call the doctor for antibiotics. The course ranges from 10 to 14 days depending on the severity, and you must finish the entire course to be sure to prevent recurrence.
Doctors typically prescribe Amoxicillin for mastitis because it’s safe for mom and the breastfeeding infant. However, your doctor may prescribe something else depending on your baby’s age, health, and your health.
The Best Tips for Mastitis Breastfeeding
You can absolutely breastfeed with mastitis, and you should do so to help get rid of the symptoms and kick it faster. Doctors say that, even if you have infective mastitis, it’s only to feed your baby because your milk now has antibodies to protect your baby.
You should know that mastitis can reduce your milk supply because the infection affects the milk ducts. However, the undamaged milk ducts will make up for it and produce extra milk. You don’t have to worry that your baby won’t have enough milk.
1. Use Lanolin Each Time
If you have a crack in your nipple, use lanolin or a nursing-safe cream after each feeding to try to heal it. Let it air dry after each nursing session.
2. Massage While Nursing
When you’re nursing, try to massage that area. It’s going to hurt, without a doubt, but you have to push through the pain to get rid of mastitis.
3. Use a Compress
You can also apply a warm compress while you’re nursing to try to open up those milk ducts. If you put the compress on your nipple before nursing, it might make it feel better when your baby latches onto the breast.
How to Prevent Mastitis During Breastfeeding?
The best thing to do is work towards preventing mastitis mastitis breastfeeding in the first place. No one wants to have to suffer like that! Here are a few basic tips to use to prevent mastitis.
1. Work on a Good Latch
First and most importantly, work on a proper latch with your baby. That might require a visit with a lactation consultant. A bad latch can cause cracked nipples and the inability to properly transfer milk out of the breast. That increases milk retention.
A good lactation consultant can check for tongue and lip ties as well as showing you how to latch your baby on properly each time.
2. Empty Breasts Regularly
Keep a frequent breastfeeding schedule with only a few hours between each feed. You need to let your baby drain each breast fully before moving to the next one.
If, for some reason, you aren’t able to breastfeed at that time, you need to express milk for storage. Don’t skip a feeding!
3. Nurse Both Breasts
You want to nurse both breasts, but it may not be during one feeding. Let the baby breastfeed fully from one breast, draining it totally. Then, move your baby to the second breast. If he no longer is hungry, start with the second breast for the next feeding.
4. Address Cracked Nipples ASAP
Don’t ignore those cracked nipples! If you haven’t already, get a hold of a lactation consultant to help you determine why you have cracked nipples. Use a lanolin-based cream to help heal the nipples, let them air dry, and try a breast shield if your nipples start to bleed.
5. Don’t Use Tightly Fitting Bras
Pressure can cause mastitis, so avoid ill-fitting bras and clothes that might put too much pressure onto your milk ducts and block the flow of milk. It can cause engorgement, so pay attention to what you’re wearing.
6. Wean Slowly
When the time comes to wean your baby, make sure that you do so slowly. Don’t try to stop breastfeeding overnight.
Not only does that increase your risk of mastitis, but it’s also incredibly uncomfortable. Try to gradually reduce the number of times you breastfeed each day, which will help your breast gradually reduce the amount of milk created.
When it comes to mastitis, prevention is the key. It’s better to prevent it than have to suffer through the symptoms.
If you do find yourself with mastitis while breastfeeding, remember that emptying your breasts and healing any nipple cracks are the most important things. Increase your fluid intake, rest, and take antibiotics if the infection lasts for more than 24 hours.