Ask any breastfeeding mama about her list of fears, and we bet “mastitis” would rank near the top for most.
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue, but the worst part is it’s known for making you feel like you’ve been run over by the Flu Bus. YUCK. For women who are breastfeeding, mastitis is caused by a clogged duct which can occur when the breast isn’t being completely emptied - either by your baby or by a breast pump.
It affects about 1 in 10 breastfeeding moms and can occur at any time but more commonly shows up in the first month or so of lactation. The initial signs of mastitis are a tender area in the breast, a lump, localized redness and/or “streaking”, and flu-like symptoms such as body aches, chills, and fever. These symptoms tend to come on very quickly and without much warning!
Mastitis is usually treated with antibiotics, and thankfully, it responds quickly to this treatment. Even within a day, most women will likely notice some improvement. Sometimes the medicine can wreak havoc on your sweet baby’s tummy, so you may want to incorporate probiotics for you and the baby. (Tip! -- do not take the antibiotic and the probiotic at the same time, as it will make the probiotic ineffective. Instead, give them at intervals - ask your pharmacist for more specific help if needed.)
There are also natural ways you can treat mastitis, although you should consult your ob/gyn first. Here are some natural methods you can try:
- avoid tight-fitting bras (or bras altogether, if possible) and any constrictive clothing
- breast massage before/during/after feedings, as well as in a hot shower
- warm compress to the painful area prior to nursing (you can soak a diaper in warm water & apply to your breast!)
- cold compress after to reduce inflammation
- extra nursing and/or pumping sessions (super important!).
- increase fluid intake
If it all possible, you want to focus on prevention of mastitis. No doubt it has derailed many women from continuing to breastfeed successfully, and honestly, who has time to feel crummy with a newborn baby in your life? Keep these things in mind on a daily basis:
1. Make sure your baby is latching properly each time.
2. In the beginning weeks, incorporate breast massage while nursing to make sure your baby is emptying the entire breast.
3. Don’t forget to nurse equally on both sides. It may be helpful to download a breastfeeding app to track which side and the timing of each session (especially since it’s hard to remember anything those first couple of months!)
4. Keep your water intake up.
5. Avoid sleeping in anything tight-fitting. The best option for overnight is probably a nursing tank (not tight!) that allows for a little support and a way to use nursing pads to prevent leaking.
6. And if you do notice a tender spot on your breast at any point, begin doing the steps listed above under natural treatments to clear out the clogged duct before infection has time to set in.
Hopefully you can avoid a run in with mastitis, but if it does happen, just know that it is treatable and it DOES NOT have to negatively impact your breastfeeding journey. In fact, continuing to nurse frequently is one of the best things you can do for it! Communicate with your pharmacist, doctor, and/or lactation consultant for help and guidance - they help women through this dilemma all the time.
Have you ever experienced mastitis? Fill us in on your experience and any helpful tips in the comments.
And as always, keep it up mama - you’re doing a great job!