Mastitis Symptoms And Treatment

What Is Mastitis and How Can You Treat It

Mastitis is a breast infection that usually causes one breast to be painful or tender. It’s most commonly experienced by mums during the first three months of breastfeeding their newborn. Treating this breast infection early is crucial to avoid developing complications. To help treat mastitis, your GP may prescribe antibiotics. Breastfeeding or expressing milk can actually help prevent or resolve the condition, but it’s important to use the right techniques so that each breast is fully emptied of milk. Read on to find out about the symptoms and risk factors, and to learn what steps you can take to help prevent or treat mastitis.

What Is Mastitis?

Mastitis occurs when breast tissue becomes inflamed and painful. The build-up of milk in the breast is one of the main causes of mastitis. In some cases, this build-up can also become infected with bacteria. Mastitis most often affects breastfeeding mums (and is then called lactation mastitis) in the first three months of breastfeeding, but sometimes it can happen later on. Mastitis can be painful, and it may make you want to give up on breastfeeding, but once the infection has subsided, you will be able to continue breastfeeding without pain. Then you can fully enjoy this shared time, knowing that it benefits both you and your baby.

Signs and Symptoms of Mastitis

When you first start breastfeeding, it’s normal for your breasts to feel a little tender or sore, so what does mastitis feel like? These are some of the signs and symptoms of mastitis:

  • Pain or burning sensation in the breast while breastfeeding (this breast infection usually only affects one breast)
  • Tenderness or soreness of the breast
  • Swelling of the breast
  • Feeling of warmth in the breast
  • Redness of the breast (often in a patch that can be painful to touch)
  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Fever and chills.

What Causes Mastitis?

For breastfeeding women, mastitis is most frequently caused by the build-up of milk within the breast, in what is known as milk stasis.

Milk stasis can occur when

  • a baby doesn’t latch onto the breast correctly while feeding,
  • a baby has problems sucking,
  • breast milk is expressed infrequently,
  • your baby feeds (or you express) from one breast only, such as when one nipple is too sore,
  • a knock or a blow damages the milk duct or glands in the breast,
  • your milk flow is restricted by a tight-fitting bra or by putting pressure on your breast.

Also, if you’ve had a previous bout of mastitis, this may increase the risk of recurring lactation mastitis.

How to Prevent Mastitis

Here are some things you can try to help prevent mastitis:

  • Make sure your baby fully latches on while feeding.
  • Try feeding in different breastfeeding positions, this may help your baby latch on and feed more effectively .
  • Breastfeed from both breasts.
  • Breastfeed as often as you can and for as long as your baby is hungry — don’t leave too much time between feeds.
  • To aid in emptying your breasts, apply a warm compress (a warm, wet flannel) to your breasts or take a warm shower before breastfeeding.
  • Read more about breastfeeding, and seek help from your GP or midwife to learn the proper techniques, so that each breast is fully drained during feeds. Eventually, when you want to wean your baby off breastfeeding, you may wonder how to dry up your milk supply without getting mastitis. The key is to wean gradually. Speak to your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding specialist to learn more.

Breastfeeding and Mastitis

You can and should breastfeed with mastitis. It may be a little uncomfortable at first, but breastfeeding can actually help resolve the problem faster. It’s also safe for your baby. The antibacterial properties of your milk help protect your baby from the infection. Consult your doctor about breastfeeding while taking antibiotics for the mastitis.

Treatment for Mastitis

It’s important to treat mastitis as soon as you notice it. At first, you may have flu-like symptoms, followed by soreness in a breast. At this point, it’s important to speak to your GP about how to treat mastitis, because, if left untreated, pus can collect and form an abscess that may require drainage. Oral antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat mastitis. If this doesn’t help clear it up, or if you get recurring bouts, speak to your GP again about how to get rid of mastitis for good, possibly with another type of antibiotic, for example. These tips will also help give you a little mastitis relief:

  • Follow the above prevention tips, as these can also help resolve the problem (for example, nursing regularly can help reduce inflammation and open the blocked area).
  • Warmth can help your milk flow better, so take a warm shower or bath, or even apply a warm flannel.
  • Ask your GP about taking a pain reliever to help reduce the discomfort, such as over the counter medications like ibuprofen or paracetamol.
  • Rest up (resting in bed with your baby may also encourage more frequent feeds).
  • Drink lots of water to help your body fight the infection.
  • If breastfeeding is too painful, try pumping breast milk or hand expressing instead.
  • Wear a supportive, not tight-fitting bra.

Mastitis can be discouraging, but know that once the condition has cleared up, you can return to breastfeeding as normal, and enjoy this bonding time with your baby.

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