Having a full breast and being unable to feed your baby or express milk with a pump, is uncomfortable, even painful at times. But the discomfort is nothing compared to the agony of mastitis. Having mastitis is a wretched experience. And if it turns infectious, you can end up experiencing flu like symptoms, which is not ideal, if you are already suffering from lack of sleep and caring for a demanding baby.
On the bright side, non-infectious mastitis is easy to deal with. On the gloomy side, you can have mastitis more than once, and if you don’t deal with it quick enough, it can turn infectious.
What is mastitis?
Mastitis is the inflammation of the breast, which usually affects just one breast. It is most common in breastfeeding mothers, although mums who bottle-feed may also suffer with it. Mastitis is not an uncommon illness. In fact, in the UK, around 1 in 3 breastfeeding mums suffered from mastitis at some point. It commonly occurs during the first 6 months of your baby’s life. However, some mothers reported suffering with it when their baby was a year old and even after they had stopped breastfeeding.
Mastitis can be caused by milk stasis or blocked ducts. Milk stasis happens when your breast is not properly emptied during breastfeeding. This could happen for a number of reasons such as:
Your baby is feeding infrequently or missing his feeds – such as when your baby starts sleeping through the night.
Your baby prefers one breast over the other – it is not uncommon for a baby to be more comfortable feeding in a particular position, thus making prefer to feed on either the left or right breast. When this happens, the other breast will not be emptied properly.
Your baby is not latching properly – which means that your baby can’t properly feed, and therefore can’t empty your breast.
Your baby has sucking problems – some babies could have a physical problem that stops them from sucking properly, like having tongue-tie (a birth defect in which the skin that attaches to the base of his mouth is unusually tight and short.)
Pressure on your breast – sleeping on your front, wearing tight fitting clothes or restrictive bras can put pressure on your breasts, and can clog your ducts, causing your breast to inflame.
Symptoms of mastitis include:
Breast is hot to touch
If you are suffering from infectious mastitis, you may also experience flu-like symptoms such as:
High temperature above 38.5 degrees Celsius
Most cases of non-infectious mastitis are easily treated by simply resting, drinking plenty of fluids and adjusting your baby’s feeding technique and routine. To reduce the swelling of your breast, you can apply a cool flannel over the affected area or massage it. Soaking in a warm bath can also remove the blockage.
Additionally, you can also take Paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce the pain and inflammation. Make sure that you GP, midwife or health visitor knows that you are suffering from mastitis so they can keep an eye for any complications.
Infectious mastitis has to be treated with an antibiotic, so you need to see your GP.
Breastfeeding with Mastitis
Breastfeeding whilst suffering with mastitis is very uncomfortable, but it is ok to continue. It will not affect your baby. Your milk will taste saltier than it usually is, but it is safe for baby to drink. Bacteria in the milk are harmless and your baby’s digestive system will simply absorb it. In fact, it is important to continue feeding because it will help remove the milk from your breast, and clear up the symptoms quicker, as well as helping to prevent the mastitis from turning severe.