Have you woken up this morning feeling as though you are suddenly battling the flu, including a fever over 101° F, nausea, body aches and the chills? Are you ending your day feeling pain and discomfort in one side of your breast or have you noticed a redness, hardness, or perhaps a warm or swollen area? The culprit may be Mastitis, the swelling and inflammation associated with an infection in the breast tissue and milk ducts.
Mastitis is a very common issue for breast feeding mothers, and although rare it can occur in situations outside of lactation as well. It is possible to encounter this infection a few times throughout breastfeeding, and is most common in the earlier months. While the pain and discomfort you are feeling may be overwhelming, don’t be discouraged. Help and relief can be found quickly once this relatively simple diagnosis is made.
Causes & Prevention
This infection is caused by invading bacteria found on normal skin. These germs typically are passed from your baby’s mouth, nose and throat, through a break or crack in the nipple into a milk duct. At other times, when the breasts are not entirely emptied of breast milk, due to a fussy teething baby, a missed feeding, or a poor latch on, this can lead to an infection as well. While feeding, if your baby only nurses for a couple minutes on the second breast, start with that breast at the next feeding. It can also be helpful to alternate which breast you begin with at each feeding.
In addition to the causes of a mastitis infection outlined above it is helpful to be conscious of other risks that can lead to a mastitis infection in order to prevent recurrent cases. A bra that is too tight or pinches, or clothing that adds pressure to the breasts can restrict the flow of milk, can be the cause, so it is important to be aware of a proper fit. If you’re feeling stressed and tired, (which let’s face it, in the beginning most nursing mothers are) while not taking the best care of their own diet, ones immune system may be lowered putting her at a higher risk for mastitis. While it is easy to get lost in the wonders of caring for our newborn child, it is essential to remember to take good care of ourselves as well!
It is also possible that you may be experiencing mastitis once you have stopped breastfeeding. Stopping abruptly can cause an infection to flare up. In this case it may be imperative to gradually wean your baby off the breast. Eliminating one feeding for a few days or a week, and then slowly decrease the amount of feedings from the breast over the next several weeks can help reduce the risk of infection.
Mastitis treatment very commonly involves a round of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. It only takes a moment to make a quick call or visit to your doctor that will likely lead to a proper diagnosis and that much desired relief. The antibiotics typically will be taken for around 10 days, and while you will likely feel much better within 48 hours, it is important to finish taking the entire prescription. If your breast remains painful or tender, or if your fever persists, call your doctor without delay as further complications may arise. Be sure not to ignore mastitis, as it can get worse and develop into an abscess which may require surgery.
There are multiple home remedies for mastitis as well and when recognized early, it can be easy and quick to treat. It is important to know that you can and should continue breast feeding throughout this infection. By feeding your baby frequently and taking ibuprofen (always clear any medication with your doctor), often this issue can be resolved within 24 hours. Feeding more often can help to keep the breast empty of milk and relieve the clogged ducts. It is possible that your baby may refuse to nurse from the effected breast, and in this case try hand expressing or using a breast pump to empty the breast.
Applying moist heat, from a warm cloth or shower, for 15-20 minutes four times a day can be very effective. You may find it more comfortable and easier to hand express milk from your breast while under the warm water from the shower. There are also a variety of herbal remedies that can be explored, including the use of cabbage leaves. This cure is especially effective if a clogged duct is recognized early and before the infection sets in. By placing the leaves directly on the infected area of the breast the leaves should be changed out once warm and wilted and can help draw out the heat and infection. Use caution with prolonged use as it may lead to an eventual decrease in milk production.
Most importantly, as with any infection, you should get as much rest as possible!
Effects on baby
There is no significant risk on the baby due to mastitis or from the commonly prescribed antibiotics. Your baby may experience difficulty latching due the breast engorgement, and this can be helped by hand expressing or pumping some milk prior to the feeding. Your baby also may fuss because the taste of your milk has changed slightly due to the increased sodium content in your milk from the mastitis. However if baby is fussing at both breasts, it may be due to a slight change in taste due the antibiotics. Either way, mastitis will not harm your baby and nursing usually helps to clear up the infection. Keep encouraging your baby to latch on properly and feed often. Be confident and reassured knowing that this is temporary and can be resolved!