Mastitis is one of the most common and feared breastfeeding problems – although it can actually be treated easily.
Breastfeeding problems are quite common. In fact, most mummies have to deal with some of them during the time they’re nourishing their babies, even if it’s just breast pain. Breastfeeding is beautiful, yes, and an important moment for bonding with your baby. But there can be some complications that will require patience and endurance. Let’s take a closer look at what is mastitis, what causes it and how can we treat it. Don’t miss the following lines if you’re breastfeeding!
What is mastitis? What causes it?
Mastitis, also called lactation mastitis or puerperal mastitis, is one of the most common problems that can occur when you are breastfeeding your baby: around 10% of breastfeeding mums suffer it within the first three months after welcoming their babies. The tissue in the mother’s breast is inflamed and painful. It can develop in an infection quickly if there are bacteria growing in the inflamed tissues.
Breast mastitis can occur for a number of reasons. It can be a consequence of having a blocked milk duct or milk stasis, which is an accumulation of milk within the breast. This can happen if your baby isn’t latching on correctly or has problems sucking, or if he’s not feeding frequently enough – which means that you wouldn’t be properly emptying your milk ducts.
If the milk stasis develops into an infection, doctors name it infectious or infective mastitis.
What are the symptoms of mastitis?
Mastitis is easily recognisable, although the mastitis symptoms can be very similar to the ones of other breastfeeding problems, especially to the symptoms of having a blocked milk duct.
Suspect a mastitis if:
- Your breast is reddish and swollen and feels sore, hot and hard when you touch it.
- You can touch a small lump (blocked milk duct)
- You feel lots and lots of pain: this sharp pain can occur while you’re breastfeeding your little one but also when you’re not…
Besides, you could be seeing blood in a slight milk discharge. You could also have a fever, chills and fatigue, especially if the mastitis has become infective.
Should I go to the doctor?
Definitely yes. Some breastfeeding problems can get better on their own – like a blocked milk duct. It is usual that mastitis starts off as a simple clogged duct, which is why you should go to the doctor if you’ve noticed a lump and it doesn’t get better within a day.
Mastitis could develop into something far worse, a breast abscess, which is a big infection that sometimes requires surgery so the pus can be drained (yikes!). So if you suspect your breast is hurting because of mastitis, go see your GP.
How is mastitis diagnosed?
In order to determine if you’re suffering from mastitis, your doctor will have to examine your breasts, and also ask you to describe the symptoms you’re feeling. And why is that? Well, if they are severe, it may be necessary to test a sample of your breast milk to analyse the possible bacteria that are growing in there and diagnose an infective mastitis. Besides, this is also necessary to prescribe the adequate treatment afterwards.
It is possible that your doctor, in order to determine what is causing your mastitis, asks you to breastfeed in front of him or her to see if the way your baby is latching on has something to do with it.
What’s the treatment for mastitis?
The mastitis treatment will depend on what kind you have, that is, if it’s infectious or not. For the first case scenario, the GP will probably prescribe an antibiotic specific to the kind of bacteria that is causing the infection.
The other course of treatment, which you will have to undergo for both kinds of mastitis, involves several measures for your day to day life, such as avoiding tight clothes, changing your breastfeeding technique (changing breastfeeding positions, helping your baby latch on correctly, making sure that your breasts are fully empty, even if using a breast pump), and, of course drinking lots of fluids and getting all the rest you need, which will help with mastitis… And anything else that is making you feel under the weather!
You will probably recover fairly quickly if you follow your doctor’s recommendations.
Can mastitis in women be prevented?
Yes, it can be prevented: You just need to follow the same basic recommendations for treating it, since they are addressed to solving the cause of the mastitis. Besides this, you can prevent it by making sure that your baby finishes off the breasts whenever he feeds (or extracting the remaining milk yourself if he’s not hungry enough), not waiting too much between feeds and avoiding pressure on your breasts by your bra or tight clothing. Besides, it’s also of help if you are breastfeeding exclusively – which you are probably doing, since mastitis is more common during the first three months. If your baby is using a bottle as well, he can get some bad sucking habits from the teat that you’re using, so everything tends to run smoother if your baby’s only source is the nipple.
Mastitis can be very painful and it may make you feel frustrated, but keep in mind that you don’t need to interrupt breastfeeding if you can deal with the pain: Your baby won’t notice. Besides, full recovery tends to happen quickly, so you won’t have to suffer it for too long!