A condition fairly common in breastfeeding women, Mastitis translates to breast inflammation and can be a very uncomfortable (very painful in some cases) issue to take care of. Usually caused by a bacterial infection or blocked milk ducts in the breast, mastitis is known to mainly affect mothers up to 2 months after childbirth although there are cases when they can occur later on as well.
Mastitis in breastfeeding females can be classified into two types; infective mastitis which is usually caused by a bacterial infection and non infective mastitis which is caused by the blockage of milk ducts in the breasts.
In the case of non infective mastitis, the basic causes would include improper feeding, long intervals between feeding sessions, poor breast drainage (limiting the feeding time), holding the breast tightly when lactating, wearing an ill fitted bra, pressure applied via a seat belt, or injuries/trauma etc.
Infective mastitis can be attributed to bacterial infection that can be mainly caused by factors like nipple trauma/injury, cracked/sore nipples, use of nipple creams, ill health, not washing hands properly after diaper changes and not washing artificial nipples and breast pumps properly before use etc.
General Symptoms of Mastitis in Breastfeeding Women
In the case of breast feeding women, the initial signs of mastitis would include tender/sore breasts that swell up and become painful to touch. The breasts also harden up and become red in certain cases. It is also possible to notice visible lumps in the areas of the breast where the milk is blocked. Parts of the breast also become warm or hot to the touch.
Some women with mastitis may start to experience painful lymph nodes under the armpits near the affected breast. In case the condition is not treated properly, it could lead to more serious issues like extreme breast pain, increased heart rate, body aches, sudden chills, fever and in the worst case scenario, breast abscess.
Conditions that Can Increase the Risk Factor
Although mastitis can affect any and every breast feeding woman out there, the condition would be more prevalent in case:
i. The woman in question has had a previous complaint of mastitis.
ii. The woman is prone to develop sore, irritated or cracked nipples while breastfeeding.
iii. The woman has anemia and a weak immune system that would offer little protection from bacterial infections that can lead to conditions like mastitis.
Treating Mastitis in Breastfeeding Women
The best way to stay safe from mastitis and its painful effects would be to initiate treatment as soon as you are able to make a positive diagnosis. Given below are some of the more common (and most effective) remedies recommended for mastitis in breastfeeding women.
Clear Blocked Milk Ducts Immediately
If the mastitis is due to blocked milk ducts, make sure that you clear them immediately. Accordingly, you can opt to breastfeed your baby from the affected breast first in order to clear the ducts and prevent infections if any.
If the affected breast is too painful, try feeding your baby with the other breast for a few minutes. Then switch over to the affected breast when the milk starts flowing. You can also place a warm cloth over the affected breast for a couple of minutes before feeding to increase the milk flow in the breast.
Massaging the affected breast before feeding can also clear the blocked ducts and increase the flow of milk to the area. In case you find it too painful to feed or in case your nipples are cracked/sore, you can opt to pump out the milk using a breast pump or by hand.
Use Hot or Cold Compresses for Comfort
In addition to helping increase milk flow in the affected breast, hot compresses can offer you comfort from the incessant pain and soreness caused by mastitis. Applying cold packs on the affected breast after breastfeeding would also provide comfort from the pain and warmth experienced in the area.
Feeding Changes to Incorporate
In certain cases, the position in which you feed your baby could lead to mastitis. If the baby is not able to suckle properly, the milk would not flow freely and so would collect inside the breast with time. In these cases, you can opt for a change in the feeding position. Opt for a couple of positions before settling down with the one that facilitates easy and proper breast drainage.
Antibiotics and Anti Inflammatory Medications that Help
Certain antibiotics like cephalexin or flucloxcillin can help treat mastitis in breastfeeding women. You can also opt for anti inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, paracetamol, and acetaminophen to tackle the side effects of mastitis, mainly pain and fever. These medications would help take care of mastitis and its effects without posing any threat to the baby.
Always follow the doctor’s advice when taking these medications. If you are prescribed with medications to treat mastitis, make sure you complete the entire course. Stopping midway in between after the initial symptoms recede could possibly cause relapses.
Get Help from a Lactation Consultant
In these cases, it would be wise to get the help of a lactation consultant who specializes in the area of breastfeeding. Asking a lactation consultant to help you out during this period can help you lactate properly, get rid of any infections and mastitis, and prevent future occurrences.
Even though you may have succeeded in getting rid of mastitis, there are chances for you to get recurring infections if you don’t take the appropriate steps to prevent the condition in the future. Accordingly, here are some simple and effective tips to prevent mastitis in breastfeeding women.
Make sure you wash your hands properly after changing diapers. Wipe your hands with a wet washcloth right before you touch your breasts for a lactating session. Don’t prolong intervals between feeding sessions. Frequent feeding would make sure the milk flow is constant, thereby preventing blockages.
Avoid wearing ill fitted bras that can place excess pressure on the breasts. Opt for comfort fit bras and loose clothing while breastfeeding. It is considered wise to refrain from using nipple pads, ointments and creams on a regular basis. This way you can reduce the chances of getting infected.
Position your baby properly before breastfeeding so that he/she is able to suckle properly. Try varied breastfeeding positions to enable easy lactation and breast drainage. And finally, get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids to keep your body active and hydrated.
Visiting a Doctor
Even though mastitis in breastfeeding women can be treated and prevented with the steps mentioned above, you would have to consult a doctor if the infection worsens and the symptoms intensify. In this case, you would need to call your doctor if the blockages do not clear within 12 hours, by which time you would start experiencing the other symptoms of mastitis as well.