Mastitis is a condition that women will sometimes suffer from because of breastfeeding. Around one in ten breastfeeding women will suffer from mastitis, as well as some women who are bottle-feeding. The condition causes your breasts to become inflamed and can lead to an infection.
The symptoms of mastitis include areas of your breasts becoming swollen, sore, red, hot, or hard. There may also be a lump caused by a blocked duct, which is when milk enters your breast tissue instead of your milk ducts. You may also have some flu-like symptoms such as a temperature of over 38.5 degrees, exhaustion, a headache, and chills.
Mastitis is usually caused by milk building up in the breasts faster than it is removed. This is known as milk stasis. One cause of milk stasis is when the baby is not latched onto the breast properly and so does not take enough milk. Other causes can be feeding to a strict routine, persisting engorgement or an injury to the breast.
On some occasions, milk stasis can develop into infectious mastitis, often if a nipple has been cracked allowing infection to pass through into the breast. Mastitis is most common during the first month of breastfeeding and if you are a first time mum.
The best way to help mastitis clear up quickly is to keep breastfeeding. If you stop breastfeeding this will make the condition worse rather than better. You should consult your doctor immediately and antibiotics may be prescribed.
Other ways of relieving the condition include: ensuring your baby is properly latched on when feeding (expert advice can be sought); expressing milk from your breasts; feeding as often as your baby wants, to remove more milk from your breasts; using a warm or cold compress on your breast and taking as much rest as you can. If your mastitis does not improve after a few days, see your doctor again.
If you think your mastitis was caused by your baby not being latched on to the breast properly, it is very important to seek help to make sure your baby is positioned correctly. If a poor latch is not corrected, this can lead to problems with milk supply that could mean your baby is not getting enough milk. There are many avenues available for help with breastfeeding and your doctor or healthcare provider will be able to give you details of the support groups and breastfeeding clinics, counsellors and specialists in your local area.
Mastitis should not take long to clear up, but if you have been prescribed antibiotics, it is important to finish the full course. Consult your doctor if you have been taking antibiotics but still have a temperature or your breast remains tender.
Some women worry that their baby will be affected if they have been feeling unwell and particularly if their breast has become infected. Rest assured that a bout of mastitis will not harm your baby in any way and it is perfectly safe, indeed necessary, to keep breastfeeding throughout. If breastfeeding is painful, try applying warm flannels before feeding. If it is really too painful to breastfeed, express your milk and feed it to your baby in a bottle or cup instead.