Mastitis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

image001Mastitis is a breast infection commonly experience by women who breast feed their babies. Some non-breastfeeding women can also get mastitis. Statistics show that 1 in 10 women who breastfeed suffer from a case of mastitis during the first 3 months after their babies are born. The doctor can treat this infection with antibiotics and may also recommend warm compresses. This condition can cause inflammation, redness, pain and swelling. Some women also have “flu-like” symptoms such as aches and pains, fever and chills.

What Is Mastitis?

Mastitis is a breast infection that causes swelling, pain, redness and warm skin to the touch on the breast. You may also have chills and fever with the infection. This is most common in breastfeeding women, but also happens to some women who are not breastfeeding.

When mastitis occurs due to breastfeeding, it is also known as lactation mastitis and is most common in the three months after your baby is born. There have been cases of lactation mastitis anytime within the first year of breastfeeding. Mastitis can make you feel very sick, fatigued and experience aches and pains similar to a case of the flu. Because of this, many women may stop breastfeeding due to the illness. It is important to keep breastfeeding if possible during mastitis to encourage milk flow and the infection will not harm the baby. However, check with your doctor to make sure the antibiotics you are taking are okay for breastfeeding mothers.

What Are the Symptoms of Mastitis?

Since mastitis is an infection caused by inflammation of the breast, you will have symptoms of inflammation including:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Hardness
  • Soreness
  • Lump in breast from a “blocked milk duct.” (Milk buildup in the tissue causes inflammation in your ducts and alveoli)

There may also be corresponding symptoms of an infection including:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Chills

What Causes Mastitis?

Mastitis is caused by a build of milk in the breast tissue. This usually happens because you are making milk quickly, but it stays in the breast ducts. This is known as milk stasis. When you are breastfeeding, this may mean that your baby is not latching on right and not getting enough milk to drain your breasts. Not latching on right can cause your nipples to become sore and you avoid feeding baby on that side. You then become engorged, experience milk stasis and this can lead to mastitis. Babies that tend to only want to nurse on one breast can also cause you to get mastitis.

Here is a list of things that can lead to mastitis:

  • Too strict of a feeding schedule.
  • Too much time in between feeding times.
  • Your baby sleeps all night causing you to become engorged
  • Tight clothing or bras
  • Sleeping on your breast
  • Breast injury
  • Cracked nipples (Allows bacteria into the breast)

If you are a first time breastfeeding mother, you are at a higher risk for mastitis. Even second or third time moms get it but not as often. There is also a higher risk if you give your baby a pacifier or supplement bottle feedings, your baby may not want to eat as much causing milk build up and stasis. There is also a condition called “tongue tie” where your baby has a short tongue and this causing problems with latching on properly, leading to baby getting less milk out of your breast.

How to Treat Mastitis

Mastitis is an infection and needs to be evaluated and treated by your physician. 

  • Antibiotic medications: Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic medications for at least 10 to 14 days. It takes about 24 to 48 hours for you to start feeling better. Even if you start feeling better, you need to finish the entire prescription or the infection may come back.
  • Pain medications: You may need to use a pain medication approved by your doctor to use during breastfeeding. You may be able to use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help relieve pain and inflammation.

Important notes:

A breast abscess associated with mastitis is a medical emergency. If you have a hard red lump that is very swollen and a high fever, contact your doctor right away or go to the emergency room. This may require surgery or aspiration to remove the excess fluid and infection.

Watch the video below for more helpful information about mastitis and its treatments:

Home Remedies for Mastitis

1. Keep Breastfeeding

If you have mastitis, it is very important to continue to breastfeed from the breast that is inflamed. While this may hurt, it helps to keep the milk flowing and will help relieve the pressure and help it heal faster. Make sure that your baby is latching on correctly and if you need help, see a lactation specialist for help.

If you do not continue to feed, you will get further milk stasis and your infection could become worsened. If continuing to feed does not help you feel better in a couple of days, you need to contact your physician.

2. Warm Compresses

Warm moist compresses over the area can help improve blood and milk flow to the area. It is also soothing, but may increase redness and swelling, so only use intermittently throughout the day. Warm showers or even ice packs can help relieve soreness and inflammation.

3. Others

  • Allow your baby to “feed on demand.” A good number of feedings is up to 12 per day, but not less than 8 feedings.
  • If your baby is not feeding enough, use a pump to get the excess milk out of the breast. This also helps for sore cracked nipples.
  • Get plenty of rest and increase your fluid intake.
  • Wear loose clothing and possibly switch to a sports bra until you have healed.
  • While you are nursing your baby, massage the sides of your breasts to help push the milk down towards the nipple. Make sure you only use gentle pressure.

One last important note:

If you experience infection drainage from the affected breast, do not squeeze it out, as this can cause the infection to spread. Instead, just allow the nipple to drain the fluids and wash it gently. Allow the nipple to air dry and make sure you use an absorbent breastfeeding pad inside your bra to catch any extra drainage.

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