Breastfeeding moms can develop mastitis, a bacterial infection of the breast tissue that causes painful, swollen breasts that may be red and warm to the touch. Lactational mastitis occurs during pregnancy or breastfeeding while in rare circumstances, non-lactational mastitis can affect women who are not pregnant or lactating. Mastitis usually occurs within three months of giving birth but can happen later on during breastfeeding. If you have mastitis, it can be difficult to care for your baby because you feel so tired, but you can continue breastfeeding.
Mastitis causes Bacteria from the nursing baby’s nose or mouth, may enter the breast through a crack or sore in the nipple and begin to multiply in the milk ducts. Women may be more prone to mastitis during the first month of nursing when their nipples are more damaged and their breasts are engorged but women without cracked or sore nipples can also develop mastitis. If you’ve had mastitis before, you’re more at risk for developing it again. Wearing a tight bra which restricts milk flow and feeding with one breast only — which doesn’t get fully drained and puts pressure on the ducts — are also contributing risk factors. With non-lactational mastitis bacteria is also to blame. Smokers, women who have diabetes or a weak immune system from illnesses or with a breast condition called ductal ectasia are at higher risk of mastitis.
Mastitis symptoms If you have mastitis, you may experience breast pain, breast swelling (the infected breast may also be red and warm), chills or fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue. Another symptom is a wedge-shaped area on the breast pointing toward the nipple. Sometimes women with mastitis develop a breast abscess, which is a collection of pus. Mastitis usually affects only one breast, not both.
Mastitis diagnosis/tests Call your doctor right away if you have mastitis symptoms. She will probably want to see you to confirm the diagnosis and may order an ultrasound. If you have an abscess, it may need to be drained by a surgeon. If you’ve had mastitis before and recognize the symptoms, your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics over the phone.
Mastitis treatment Prompt treatment is important to prevent the infection from spreading. Oral antibiotics are very effective for treating mastitis. Resting, taking pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and applying cold packs to the breast may help relieve discomfort. If your baby won’t feed on the infected breast, use a pump or hand express to empty the breast. If the infection doesn’t clear up, see your doctor again.
Mastitis prevention If you’re pregnant or nursing, practice good hygiene, avoid wearing bras that are too tight and try to prevent cracked nipples or treat them once they occur. Not letting too much time pass between breastfeeding will also help prevent clogged milk ducts. And always make sure you fully empty your breasts during feeding and that your infant latch is correct to avoid further mastitis. See a lactation consultant for support with your breastfeeding technique.
Newman Breastfeeding Clinic