Mastitis is a breast infection most common in the early weeks of breastfeeding or during periods of time when you're away from your baby, such as when you return to work or during the weaning process.
Symptoms include a sore and tender area on the breast that might hurt when your baby latches on, redness and warmth to the touch. The biggest sign that infection has set in is flu-like symptoms: aching bones, chills and fever.
So what causes mastitis? It's a result of plugged ducts that have gone unnoticed or untreated.
Plugged ducts occur when something causes the milk to "sit" in your breast and not move through the ducts. It could result from sleeping on your stomach or wearing a tight bra or baby carrier. It can also be caused if your baby doesn't drain your breast enough at feedings or isn't feeding as often because she's sleeping longer at night, has a cold or is becoming more alert.
The best remedy to relieve a plugged duct is good drainage, so if you suspect you're plugged—it'll feel like a lump or hard area on your breast that's sensitive to touch—just keep breastfeeding. Always offer the affected breast first, since your baby eats more vigorously at the start of a feeding.
What you can do if you suspect mastitis
First of all, don't suffer in silence. This is one of those times when you need to focus on yourself so you can take the proper steps to clear up the infection. If you don't, the infection may cause an abscess in your breast, and minor surgery might be required to drain the area. It's a much better idea to nip the infection in the bud.
- Continue to breastfeed your baby. Your goal is good drainage.
- Visit your doctor. You'll probably need to take antibiotics.
- Try to pump at every feeding so your breasts are being drained regularly.
After you've started antibiotics, the fever and other symptoms should disappear within 48 hours, and the sensitive, painful area on your breast should have subsided by the time you finish the prescription.
Don't worry about your baby losing any of her newfound breastfeeding skills if you need to take a few feedings off. As long as you keep your milk supply up by pumping, she'll be fine going between breast and bottle while you're taking care of yourself.
Tips for success:
- Don't ignore plugged ducts because they can lead to mastitis.
- If you think you have mastitis, call your doctor right away to discuss treatment.
- Don't be afraid to "baby" yourself a bit while you treat the infection. Taking the time and care required to completely clear up the infection will be good for everyone in your family.
This information is courtesy of Bravado Designs, the brand synonymous with women's breastfeeding success for 18 years.
Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who also sits on the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council Heather has been practicing in New York City since 2001.