You’ve waited for these moments, imaging magical, effortless latches, satisfied coos, then a lusty burp from Baby. But, instead, your breast is an angry red and rock hard, Baby can’t attach and is NOT happy, and the pain is indescribable. Welcome to mastitis.
Breastfeeding can be a difficult journey, made tougher by unknowns such as how much milk your baby is getting, what the correct latch is for your breast, and, for a lucky few, complications like mastitis. Many mothers say that breastfeeding is worth it and, from a nutritional standpoint it definitely is; however, breastfeeding moms must also be on the lookout for potential infections such as mastitis to ensure a successful breastfeeding journey.
Mastitis is an inflammation in the breast tissue that occurs when a plugged duct is not cleared, causing milk to build up. Blocked or plugged ducts are exactly what they sound like: a section of breast tissue where milk can’t flow freely while feeding Baby. These plugged ducts tend to be caused by an improper latch, breast engorgement, an overabundant milk supply, excessive pressure on the breast, dehydration, lack of rest, exercise, or weaning.
An ounce of prevention
The best way to cure mastitis is to prevent it from developing in the first place. If you start to feel that something is “off” while feeding, consider some tips to nip a developing clogged duct in the bud.
- Feed your baby often.
- Apply a warm compress over the area.
- Gently massage the breast or use the backside of an electric toothbrush to gently massage the area and break up the blockage.
- Wear loose clothing.
- Check your baby’s latch.
- Rest and drink plenty of water.
If you do develop mastitis, you may notice redness on the breast or experience pain or extra tenderness. You may be able to feel a hard lump as well. Flu-like symptoms are common, including feeling tired or run down and running a fever. It is imperative that you rest as much as you can during this time, drink plenty of water and continue to breastfeed your baby, especially from the infected breast. This will help clear the infection. Milk from your infected breast will not harm Baby, but if that breast isn’t drained after a feeding, you should consider using a breast pump.
Mastitis and then some
Mastitis can quickly become a bacterial infection requiring medication, so monitor your symptoms and contact your doctor if you:
- don’t feel better within 24 hours or develop chills or feel worse
- continue to run a fever or it spikes higher
- notice your breast is redder, hot or swollen
- find pus or blood in your milk
- can see red streaks running from your areola to your underarm
Mastitis can potentially turn into an abscess or more serious infection if not properly treated, so getting the rest and treatment you need as soon as possible is vital in full recovery. Delayed nipple wound healing, stress, chronic engorgement, or persistent breast pain can all lead to mastitis or recurring infections. If you feel that your baby’s latch may be to blame, make sure to contact a lactation consultant who can help get you back on the right track.