How Does Mastitis Happen & What’s the Treatment?

April 18, 2018 0 Comments

How Does Mastitis Happen & What’s the Treatment?

Clogged milk ducts and bacterial infection are the most common causes of mastitis. Breastfeeding women may experience it because of milk oversupply, improper breastfeeding technique, constant pressure from bra and clothing, lack of variety (e.g. breastfeeding in only one position), cracked nipples, lack of rest and other causes.

Mastitis may affect one in ten women and if you’re experiencing it, the key is to consult a doctor immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to preventing further complications.

Is mastitis very painful?

It can be painful and discomforting which could make it hard for new mums to take a nap or focus on caring for their babies. It’s often the result of inflammation or swelling which is caused by extra pressure and stimulation on the nerves.

What happens during inflammation?  It’s actually our body’s way of fighting the infection or injury. There will be increased blood flow to the affected area (more white blood cells are required). The resulting extra volume of blood flow (and also increased number of cells) may cause redness, swelling and warmth. It’s also common to experience several flu-like symptoms (e.g. body aches, headaches, fatigue) when our bodies are fighting an infection.

In this case, the sensation is only localised on one breast often during the first 3 months of lactation (or in later periods). Here are the symptoms and signs that you need to consult a doctor as soon as possible:

  • Burning sensation in the breast (especially when breastfeeding)
  • Flu-like symptoms (e.g. high temperature, aching joints, fatigue)
  • Breast becomes unusually hot to the touch
  • Redness and unusual tenderness of the breas

Is your breast milk still safe for the baby?

Yes. You can still continue breastfeeding even if you have mastitis (or even if you’re feeling uncomfortable). Even if babies ingest the bacteria (those resulting from mastitis), their stomach’s acid can effectively kill the microbes. It’s part of their defence mechanism (innate immunity).

However, it can be very discomforting while breastfeeding. As mentioned earlier, you may experience a burning sensation. It’s good to alternate between the breasts (after emptying the milk from each one) to relieve some of the discomfort. That’s because the pool of milk is being continuously released, which alleviates some of the inflammation and pain. After all, one of the common causes of mastitis is the clogging of the milk ducts. It’s recommended to continue breastfeeding to prevent some of the blocking.


What can you do to relieve mastitis?

It can be hard to take a nap or focus on caring for your baby if you’re continuously experiencing pain. Here are some of the things you can do to feel a bit comfortable:

  • Wear looser clothing (avoid pressure to breast)
  • Stay hydrated and get more sleep (entertain fewer visitors and do fewer chores so you can get more rest)
  • Take a hot shower (or apply a warm compress on the affected breast) just before each feeding (this is to make breast milk flow a bit easier)
  • Apply a cold compress between the feedings to somehow relieve pain and swelling
  • Gently massage the affected breast
  • Mild painkillers may also help (e.g. paracetamol, ibuprofen)
  • Consult a doctor (antibiotics might be prescribed)

Doing the above things might make the pain to subside and allow you to resume to your normal activities and feeling. Whichever is the case, it’s always ideal to get as much sleep as possible even during these challenging times of raising a baby as a new mum.

How can you prevent mastitis and future discomfort?

Within 12-24 hours the pain might vanish and you’ll be feeling comfortable again. However, there’s always a chance of mastitis (or any form of swelling and redness) to occur again. To prevent that scenario, here are some effective recommendations:

  • Find out the optimal breastfeeding position (with the guidance of a midwife or a health professional)
  • Vary nursing positions (this is to empty your breast completely and prevent blockage)
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly (especially after nappy change, this is to avoid bacterial infection when you’re touching your breasts)
  • Stay healthy (your body is more prone to infection if you’re always tired or if your health is compromised)

Recurring mastitis is rare especially if mums are applying the recommendations above. There are different risk factors (particularly when it comes to your own health). It’s also possible that the person hasn’t recovered from the first infection yet, which makes it seem that the problem happens again and again.

A doctor can advise you of the treatment and find out if there are any other underlying issues. Remember that anything you read online is just a starting point and a source of supplementary information. Your doctor is still the best source of information especially if you really want to prevent your case from being serious (e.g. prevent development of abscess and possible surgical treatment).


Advice for new mums

It can be alarming to experience any form of pain, swelling and unusual warmth while breastfeeding. It’s especially the case with mastitis wherein you might think of stopping breastfeeding for a while.

Good news is you can still continue breastfeeding even while you’re feeling uncomfortable. Also, the pain may subside after 12-24 hours. It’s still recommended though to consult a doctor so you can gain peace of mind and ensure nothing serious is happening.

In addition, the key to becoming the best mum (and the best person to provide care for your baby) is to become healthy. No matter what stage of life you’re in, it’s always ideal to get enough sleep, eat nutritious meals, stay hydrated and avoid stress as much as possible. However, doing these is challenging especially during the first few weeks and months after childbirth. It’s never a smooth transition because certainly you’re thinking of dozens of things right now.

To make things a bit easier for you, you can read our other articles that cover different topics about newborn care. This way you’ll learn more about how to care for your baby and enjoy that time as well.