Breastfeeding and mastitis
What is mastitis?
A Mastitis problem, is usually caused by a blocked milk duct or bacterial infection. Mastitis in women, can be unilateral (in one breast) or bilateral (in both breasts)
Lactational mastitis, is usually seen on the upper part of the breast; this is where most of the breast tissue is. Periductal mastitis, is when the ducts under the nipple are infected and inflamed.
The symptoms of mastitis, (with mastitis help and treatment) usually only last about 5 days. You can Google “mastitis pictures”, to see what mastitis looks like.
Lactation Mastitis Causes
• Sucking problems in baby, that results in a bad latch.
• Nipple pain that causes Mom to breastfeed less frequently.
A change in feeding pattern that would result in baby feeding less,
such as if baby starts sleeping longer stretches, or if baby starts
teething, or if baby is given supplements. An overly busy day or
implementing a feeding schedule, can also cause problems.
• Cracked nipples, can allow infection to enter the breast.
Pressure on the breast, can hinder the flow of milk and be the cause
of mastitis. This is why it is important to wear bras and clothing that
is not too tight. Other causes may include: sleeping on your stomach
and/or using breast pumps with flanges that are too small.
Stress, poor diet and lack of sleep can cause your immune system to
crash down; making an infection much more likely to happen.
• A history of recurrent mastitis, can mean that a Mom is more susceptible to an infection and therefore at higher risk.
• A Mom with diabetes, is also at higher risk of infection.
Signs and symptoms of Mastitis Infection
• There may be a lump in the breast.
• The pain is on the mastitis area of infection or blockage.
• There may be pus and/or blood in the breast milk.
• Mastitis symptoms usually include a red, hot and swollen breast.
• There may be red streaks on the skin; from the problem area towards the armpit.
• Signs of mastitis, may include flu-like symptoms such as aching body.
• Fever is higher than 38.4 ˚C.
Treatment for Mastitis
Mom must continue to breastfeed, if she stops, the infection can get
worse. This will also increase the risk of acute mastitis in the form
of a breast abscess. Mom should actually breastfeed more often now, at
least every 2 hours and during the night too. The milk is safe for baby
to drink, even if it has pus or blood in it. Breastfeeding will also
help in freeing any blocked milk in the milk ducts.
• When a mom has mastitis, care should be taken that she drinks plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
Mom can try different breastfeeding positions, to help the milk flow
and get rid of any blockage. Mom can try position baby so that his/her
chin is positioned in the same direction as the lump.
• When treating mastitis, a warm compress just before feeding baby, can help the milk flow better.
A good mastitis therapy is breast massage, which can help for
lymphatic drainage. Breast compressions during breastfeeding, can also
help get the milk flowing and unblock milk. Mom should breastfeed
baby immediately after massaging the breast.
• Mom should wear loose fitted clothing, and a bra that fits properly without putting unnecessary pressure on the breasts.
• Treatment of mastitis, can include cold compresses, which are used after a breastfeeding session to help for pain relief.
As part of mastitis treatment, Mom should get plenty of rest, good
food and fluids. Mom should try to go to bed with baby at night; this
will help her rest, and give baby more time at the breast. Mom should
definitely take off from work, if possible.
Oral Medication in Treatment of Mastitis
• Echinacea supplements, can help boost the immune system.
• Extra vitamin C, will also help the body fight the infection.
• Vitamin E supplements, are usually used in the treatment of mastitis.
• Ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can be taken for pain relief / anti-inflammation; they are safe to take while breastfeeding.
Mom can be given antibiotics for mastitis, that are safe while
breastfeeding. This is given only if the infection, is a bacterial
infection. Mom should finish all her antibiotics and not stop when she is
NB: If the infection does not disappear
after a course of antibiotics, Mom should see a physician to rule out the
possibility of inflammatory breast cancer. Chronic mastitis, that keeps
appearing in the same spot, can indicate a breast tumor as well.
• Feed baby on demand. Do not try to keep baby on a feeding schedule.
• Avoid unnecessary pressure on your breasts.
• Eat a healthy diet, with plenty of fluids and get as much rest as possible.
Tracy Behr, CBC, CLD (CBI)
Course information on physiology of lactation / breastfeeding problems.
Other pages on breastfeeding problems in connection with symptoms of mastitis
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