If you are breastfeeding your baby, you know there are many benefits to nursing. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy or comfortable. While it’s normal to experience some discomfort when you are starting to get into the groove of breastfeeding, you should not be in pain. Pain or tenderness might be a sign of mastitis. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of mastitis so you can get treatment when necessary.
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is the inflammation of breast tissue that most commonly affects women who are breastfeeding. The term for this is lactation mastitis, but most people just refer to it as mastitis. However, men and women who aren’t breastfeeding may get mastitis.
Lactation mastitis is caused by backed-up milk in a section in the breast. This often occurs when a blocks duct doesn’t clear up. If the signs and symptoms of mastitis aren’t recognized and treated, this can progress into an infection when bacteria gather in the blocked duct or the backed up milk. Infection can also occur if bacteria enter a cracked nipple. Milk production in the breast affected by mastitis may decrease for a few days but will bounce back after symptoms resolve.
It is still safe to breastfeed your baby if you have a breast infection. The antibacterial properties of the breastmilk will protect the baby. And as we’ll discuss later, nursing while you have the signs and symptoms of mastitis is a good way to speed up recovery.
Signs and Symptoms of Mastitis
If you are a nursing mother, you should know these seven signs and symptoms of mastitis so you can take action:
1. Breast Tenderness
2. Breast Swelling
3. Thickening of breast tissue or a breast lump
4. Pain or a burning sensation while breastfeeding
5. Skin redness, usually in a wedge-shaped pattern
6. A general feeling of illness or being rundown
If the cause of mastitis is a blocked duct that hasn’t cleared, the pain you feel may be localized to the location of the duct. If an infection develops, you may see blood or pus in breastmilk.
Treatment for Mastitis
You can treat mastitis and clear blocked ducts at home using several methods.
- Rest as much as you can
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Continue nursing from the affected breast to prevent an abscess
- If your baby does not drain the breast, express the milk by hand or with a pump to drain it
- Change positions so the clogged duct is drained
- Check your positioning and latch
- Apply wet or dry heat prior to the affected breast
- Fill a basin with warm water and lean over to soak your breasts. Gently massage the area while it’s still warm and see if your baby will nurse.
- Massage and compress your breast when your baby pauses between sucks.
- Wear loose clothing or don’t wear a bra for a few days
- Check with your medical provider to see if you can safely use an over the counter medication like ibuprofen for pain relief and inflammation reduction.
- Contact a lactation consultant to help identify what is causing your mastitis
If your symptoms don’t improve after you’ve been self-treating for 8-24 hours, you should call your doctor. You should also seek medical attention if you have signs of infection like fever or pus and blood in your breast milk. Sometimes you may be prescribed an antibiotic to treat the infection. It is safe to keep breastfeeding your baby when you have mastitis and are taking an antibiotic.
You can take some simple steps to prevent mastitis.
- Fully drain the milk from each breast while breastfeeding
- Drain one breast completely before switching to the other breast
- Change your positions from one feeding to the next
- Make sure your baby has a good latch
- Contact a lactation consultant if you are having problems with any aspect of nursing, including latching issues.
- If you smoke, get help from a medical professional to stop smoking
Contact Green Valley OB/GYN
Green Valley OB/GYN has been providing the highest quality of obstetric and gynecological care for over 70 years. We offer a comprehensive list of services, including postpartum care. To set up an appointment to talk about your health, call us at (336) 378-1110 to schedule an appointment.