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ALL THE WAYS TO GET HELP FOR MASTITIS
Mastitis is painful, and it can be scary. I remember when I got mastitis. It happened in the early weeks of breastfeeding my third baby. My breast didn’t look right, and it definitely didn’t feel right.
If you are a mom who either is certain she has mastitis or is wondering if she does, I am going to answer all your questions about this painful breastfeeding problem.
I will share what is the best help for mastitis so that you will be feeling better in no time.
WHAT IS MASTITIS?
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue. It occurs in approximately ten percent of breastfeeding moms (Source).
Mastitis occurs most often in the first six weeks of breastfeeding.
Most women will only get it once. However, some moms will battle multiple cases of mastitis.
Some women have breast tissue that extends to the area under their armpits. A breast infection can occur there, as well.
Mastitis is not only an illness that affects breastfeeding mothers. It can affect anyone who has breast tissue, including men and children.
The milk cells can collect, get stuck together and cause a back-up of milk. That is a clogged duct.
Let’s briefly review the anatomy of the breast.
There are fat cells under the skin. Next come the glandular tissue and ducts. The milk is made in the grape-like clusters called alveoli. There are a lot more of these in a breast than I show here. The milk drains into the ducts. It makes its way down to the nipple where it gets removed with suction from the baby or a pump.
The milk cells can collect, get stuck together, and cause a back-up of milk. That is a clogged duct.
WHAT DOES MASTITIS FEEL LIKE?
- A person who has mastitis will usually have a lump somewhere in their breast tissue.
- A large area of the breast may be hard.
- The affected area feels warm.
- Touching it can be excruciating.
It will feel different from very full breasts. If your breasts feel lumpy when they get full of milk, these lumps go away when you breastfeed or pump.
Breasts should not hurt. You may experience discomfort during engorgement. You may feel uncomfortable when your breasts get overly full. But beyond that, your breasts just shouldn’t feel painful.
WHAT DOES MASTITIS LOOK LIKE?
- The lump or hard area is usually reddened.
- It is possible to have mastitis and not have a lump right away.
You won’t always have a clearly defined lump with mastitis. The breast may just have a tender, swollen, and reddened area.
OTHER MASTITIS SYMPTOMS
Hallmark symptoms of mastitis are a fever and feeling like you have the flu. You will have body aches and fatigue.
MASTITIS RISK FACTORS
Most of the time, mastitis is just bad luck. Some things can put moms at higher risk for this nursing ailment.
- Cracked nipples
- Clogged ducts
- Over-abundant milk supply
- Going for long periods of time without emptying your breasts
- Sleep training
- Scheduled feedings
- Baby suddenly sleeps a long stretch
- Pressure on the breasts for an extended length.
- Poorly fitting bras
- Front carriers
- Purse straps
- Seat belts
- Side Sleeping
CLOGGED DUCT OR MASTITIS?
Clogged ducts are another condition that can cause a painful lump. The primary symptom that is different with mastitis is the fever and flu-like symptoms.
Moms who have had mastitis say they really felt miserable. It can really knock you off your feet.
You will not get a fever or those flu-like symptoms with a clogged duct. A clogged duct might improve somewhat after feeding.
However, a clogged duct that does not get cleared can progress to a mastitis.
HOW TO KNOW WHEN YOU NEED HELP FOR MASTITIS
If you have classic symptoms of a painful breast lump accompanied by a fever and flu-like symptoms, you should call your health care provider. It is highly likely that she will prescribe antibiotics. The sooner you start taking them, the sooner you will begin to feel better.
DO YOU NEED ANTIBIOTICS FOR MASTITIS?
I have heard of moms who have worked through a mild bout of mastitis without taking antibiotics. But this is exceptionally rare. I don’t ever advise moms to wait it out. I recommend a call to your health care provider right away.
COMMON ANTIBIOTICS FOR MASTITIS WHILE BREASTFEEDING
Mastitis is caused by bacteria. The most common bacteria that results in a breast infection is Staphylococcus aureus. It can also be from the bacteria, Streptococci.
The most common antibiotics used to treat mastitis include (Source):
- Cephalexin (Keflex)
It is essential that you take the entire course of antibiotics prescribed. Some women stop taking them when they feel better, and the infection can come back.
You can expect to start feeling better within 24-48 hours of your first dose of antibiotics.
If you are not feeling improvement within 48 hours, you should call your health care provider again. It is possible that you need a different antibiotic
Failure to improve can also indicate you have a breast abscess. It is considered an abscess if pus forms and collects in the breast tissue. This condition requires surgery to drain the pus.
NATURAL REMEDIES FOR MASTITIS
There are steps you can take to aid in your healing and recovery from mastitis.
- It is crucial to keep the milk moving. Breastfeed regularly and pump as needed to drain the breasts thoroughly.
- Get lots of rest. Your responsibilities are to take care of yourself and feed your baby.
- If breastfeeding is too painful, make sure you pump regularly to keep the milk moving.
- Drink lots of fluids.
- Apply a warm moist towel to the affected area before feeding or pumping. Castor oil compresses also can be very helpful.
- Massage the affected area while feeding or pumping. A LaVie Lactation Massager can help and is less tiring to your hands.
- While it is not a “natural remedy for mastitis,” taking ibuprofen can help bring down your fever and decrease the pain and body aches.
COMPLICATIONS OF MASTITIS
I also recommend getting in the habit of feeling your breasts after each feeding to make sure that you are not developing any lumps and if you are to give that area some extra attention at the next feeding with massage. You should also look at your bras and anything that may be putting pressure on your breasts.
- 3% of mastitis cases will develop into an abscess. An abscess is usually diagnosed by ultrasound.
- Decreased milk supply
MILK SUPPLY AFTER MASTITIS
Many moms have reported a decreased milk supply after mastitis.
WILL MY MILK SUPPLY COME BACK AFTER MASTITIS?
The majority of mamas will see their milk supply return to normal within a week of getting over mastitis.
HOW TO INCREASE MILK SUPPLY AFTER MASTITIS
Things that can help increase your milk supply:
- Frequent feeding
- Pumping after feeding
- Herbal supplements
SHOULD I CONSIDER WEANING IF I HAVE MASTITIS?
It is not a wise idea to try to wean when you have an active case of mastitis. Keeping your milk moving is vital to help you recover.
When you are completely recovered, you can decide if you want to wean. Remember though, that most moms only get mastitis once.
IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO IF I GET REPEATED BOUTS OF MASTITIS?
- A lecithin supplement may help. 1200mg 3-4 times a day. Lecithin is a dietary supplement.
- Get into the habit of feeling for any areas that didn’t drain well after a feeding. Pay close attention to that area and during the next feeding massage that area to encourage thorough emptying.
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT HELP WITH MASTITIS
Mastitis is an unpleasant bump in your breastfeeding journey. Fortunately, it is are temporary bumps. Once you get over it you should have a rewarding breastfeeding experience.
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.