An unpleasant issue for Milky Mamas is mastitis, which is an inflammation of the breast caused by an obstruction, infection, and/or allergy. It can be an extremely painful and stressful experience, especially if you are in the first 2-3 weeks postpartum when mastitis is most common.
In this blog I’ve discussed what causes it, signs to look out for, and treatment options. This is not something any mama hopes to have which is why I want you to be knowledgeable about it and aware that, in most cases, it is a preventable problem.
Many mothers confuse blocked milk ducts with mastitis because they have common causes and symptoms. Although similar, mastitis is what happens if a clogged duct is not cleared and is more severe.
Clogged ducts are caused by:
- Breast engorgement
- Incomplete emptying of breasts
- Infrequent or skipped feedings
- Tight clothing or pressure
Once the milk ducts become blocked it is easy for the inflammation to turn into mastitis when not treated right away.
Those with mastitis often report feeling flu-like with symptoms like feeling run down, a low-grade fever, and body aches.
Symptoms of mastitis include the following:
- A hard lump or wedge-shaped area of engorgement on the breast
- Breast pain
- Swollen/hot breast
- Body aches
- Localized tenderness
- A decrease in milk supply
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call your doctor as soon as possible so you can be properly diagnosed and receive the necessary antibiotics.
When treating mastitis the best course of action to take is to follow directions from your doctor and finish your entire dose of antibiotics.
It is also important for you to rest and either pump or nurse every 2 hours to clear the blockage.
Although you may not think it is safe to feed your baby breastmilk while you have an infection, rest assured. Your breast milk contains antibodies to protect your baby from infection.
Other ways to treat mastitis are:
- Alternating hot and cold compresses
- Gently massaging the breast
- Using vibration on the clog
- Taking 4800mg of sunflower lecithin
- Taking a hot shower and hand expressing
Until you are fully recovered, it may be wise to have family and friends help with baby duty. Extra stress will delay the healing process and increase the risk of recurring infections.
Mastitis is not always avoidable, but simple practices can be effective to keep it at bay.
Proper Latch and Positioning
Ensure that your baby has the correct latch and positioning during feedings. This ensures that your baby is efficiently emptying your breasts so no milk is left in the ducts. This will also keep your nipples from becoming sore and cracked, which is another point of entry for bacteria to enter your breasts.
Seek out help from a Lactation Consultant to make sure your baby has a good latch and to discuss different feeding positions.
Avoid going long periods between feedings. Once your breasts become engorged it is easy for a milk duct to become clogged.
If you are prone to engorgement in the mornings or after breastfeeding sessions, set aside extra time to pump. When your breasts are emptied they should feel comfortable and soft.
If you are wearing a bra that is too small or constricting on your breasts it can cause a disruption in the flow of milk from the milk ducts to the nipple. Avoid underwire bras as they are notorious for causing blocked ducts.
Follow the same guideline for tank tops and shirts. Your clothing should be comfortable and not put unneeded pressure on your chest.
Although there are health issues such as anemia or immune issues that can make a mom more susceptible to mastitis, it is usually a problem that can be avoided. Find a local breastfeeding support group led by an IBCLC to get advice on proper latch and positioning so your baby can efficiently nurse.
Have you had mastitis or issues with blocked milk ducts? Come join us in the The Official Milky Mama Lactation Support Group and let us know if you had similar symptoms and what worked for you!