Mastitis refers to inflammation of breast tissue which can sometimes also involve an infection. It is quite common for breastfeeding women to get mastitis (called lactation or puerperal mastitis). Lactation mastitis can be caused by blocked milk ducts, engorgement or milk that remains in the breasts after nursing.
Mastitis can be incredibly painful, with symptoms including swelling, warmth, breast pain, chills and fever. It may even feel like you have the flu.
It is not pleasant to get mastitis and there are a number of things you can do to prevent mastitis as well as treat it if it does occur.
Don’t Let Your Breasts Become Too Full
If your breasts get too engorged you can run the risk of your milk ducts getting plugged up or inflamed. If you know you are going to be away from your baby or not be able to nurse for some reason make sure you can express your milk to keep it flowing properly. Many women get mastitis when they wean their babies and for this reason it is recommended that weaning be a slow and gradual process so your body naturally starts producing less breast milk over time.
Avoid Restrictive Clothing
You want to avoid having any pressure on your breasts which will stop your breast milk flowing. A huge culprit here can be a poorly fitting bra. Make sure you buy the best maternity and nursing bras on the market. You want to make sure you are comfortable and well supported while being able to easily nurse your baby. Search online for the best maternity and nursing bras and remember to read the reviews given by other moms to help you make the best choice.
Avoid wearing tight clothing or baby wraps that put any pressure on your breasts or chest area. It is also best to avoid sleeping on your stomach.
Change Breastfeeding Positions Regularly
Instead of sticking to just one breastfeeding position try different positions regularly – this will help to keep the milk flowing through all your milk ducts properly. Some positions work better than others to get milk flowing through certain milk ducts.
Continue Breast Feeding
If you get a blocked duct or mastitis continue to feed your baby, focus on feeding on the problem side. This will help to get the milk flowing through those milk ducts. If you avoid feeding when you have sore breasts this will only exacerbate the problem, instead try and feed more often to solve the problem.
Your breast milk will not be harmful to your baby if you have mastitis so you can continue to nurse. Your baby may not want to nurse on your affected side due to a slight change in your milk. If that is the case then make sure to pump often on the infected side and feed your baby on the other side. A special hands free pumping bra comes in handy when you are pumping regularly.
Apply Heat & Cold
Having a hot shower before you nurse can help to alleviate the swelling and pressure as well as encourage your milk let down and help it to flow better. You can also make use of hot & cold therapy breast pads which will help to bring the swelling down and bring some pain relief.
Massaging your breasts in the area of the blocked duct while your baby is nursing will help to remove any blockages. Massaging your breasts while having a hot shower will also provide you with relief and help to avoid and remedy plugged milk ducts.
Chat to your massage therapist and see if they have any experience with treating mastitis.
Take Care of Cracked/Bleeding Nipples
Mastitis can also be caused from bacteria entering the breast through cracked or bleeding nipples. Make sure to wash your nipples clean with warm water and then put some of your own breast milk on your nipples before putting on a clean breast pad. You will be amazed at the many uses for breast milk which includes treating your own cracked nipples since it has antiseptic properties.
If your plugged milk duct does progress into mastitis you can follow all the of the above to treat it (keep the milk flowing, keep your nipples clean and treated, use hot and cold compresses and massage). If the mastitis is not easing off after 24 hours you should see your doctor who will most likely prescribe antibiotics to clear it up.
In extreme cases your mastitis may progress to an abscess which will then need to be drained from a small incision.