How to Deal with Mastitis While Breastfeeding

This article has been updated on

When I think about mastitis while breastfeeding, I shudder. I think back to those days when I had a young, nursing infant, and I felt as if my breasts were on fire and like I had a horrible case of the flu. Mastitis is no joke, and it can be a severe condition.

If your breasts are exceptionally painful, and you feel as if you’re getting sick, you might have mastitis, which is a breast infection. Mastitis is the inflammation and infection of your breast tissue.

Doesn’t that sound horrible?

It truly is awful! Mastitis is common among breastfeeding women, but many have no idea how to treat it or what causes it. So, let’s take a look at how to deal with mastitis while breastfeeding, but keep your fingers crossed; you never need to know firsthand.

What Causes Mastitis? 

Many women have no idea that mastitis can happen at any point in their life, but it’s most common if she’s breastfeeding. Breastfeeding mothers can get mastitis at any time, but it’s most common during the first two months. After the first two months, your baby’s feeding patterns become more regular, and that does help prevent mastitis.

It all has to do with your milk ducts, which are a system of tubes inside of your breasts. Milk ducts carry breast milk to your nipples for your baby to eat.

Sometimes, for one reason or another, the milk ducts are obstructed, which blocks the breast milk from flowing correctly. When this happens, the breast tissue around the milk ducts become inflamed, swelling, and turning hard. So, if you touch your breast, it feels as if a lump as formed.

Obstructions form for several reasons, such as:

Not Emptying Breasts

If your breasts aren’t being emptied of milk properly, you can cause a blockage. It might be because your baby is having a hard time latching, or you might not be feeding or pumping consistently. If you miss several feeds in a row or your baby suddenly sleeps a long time, it can cause an obstruction.

Bacterial Infections

An injured nipple can cause bacteria to enter into your breasts, leading to an infection.

Allergies

Another cause of inflammation is allergies. Who knew that allergies could cause milk duct obstructions?

Tight Clothing 

Wearing tight clothing isn’t a great idea when you’re breastfeeding. Tight and restrictive clothing applies pressure to your breasts, slowing down the flow of milk. Incorrectly fitted bras or underwire bras are two common culprits.

woman breastfeeding

The Symptoms of Mastitis

In many cases, the symptoms of mastitis don’t all start at one time. It might be one or two signs, but mastitis will continue to show its ugly side the longer that you have it.

Make sure to be on the lookout for the symptoms of mastitis, such as:

  • Lumps in your breast that feels tender to the touch
  • Redness near the affected areas that might continue to spread.
  • Hot to the touch in the area that is red and swollen.
  • A fever and flu-like symptoms

How Long Does Mastitis Last?

If you start antibiotics, you should begin to notice slight improvements within two days, but all cases are different. It can take weeks to heal properly if the infection is severe. Make sure that you finish your round of antibiotics, even if you think everything is gone because the infection can come back even worse than before.

If mastitis isn’t adequately treated, a collection of pus develops in your breast and can form a breast mass. This is known as an abscess, which can require surgical drainage. Always talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

What Increases the Risk for Getting Mastitis?

A few things increase the risk of getting mastitis, such as:

  • You’ve had mastitis before.
  • You delay or skip breastfeeding or pumping sessions.
  • You have cracked or irritated nipples.

What are the Differences Between a Clogged Duct and Mastitis? 

It’s easy to be confused about the differences between a clogged duct and mastitis. Many people call mastitis a clogged or plugged duct, but they aren’t the same even though they’re similar.

In many cases, a clogged duct is the start of mastitis, and it’s the period that the breast isn’t technically infected just yet. You might notice a red lump on the side of your breast. A clogged duct is in one specific area, causing that spot to be red and tender.

You can treat clogged ducts with many of the same methods as mastitis. If you treat a clogged duct quickly enough, it won’t have the time to develop into mastitis. However, if you let your clogged duct go untreated, the milk ducts will continue to be inflamed and obstructed, leading to infection.

Can I Still Nurse with Mastitis? 

Yes! You can still nurse with mastitis, and you need to continue to breastfeed or pump to avoid making the blockage even worse. If the blockage gets worse, it can lead to the appearance of an abscess, which is a severe situation.

woman breastfeeding

How to Treat Mastitis?

Figuring out how to deal with mastitis while breastfeeding involves two things: getting rid of the infection that is present in your breasts and breaking up the clog in your milk ducts.

In most situations, doctors prescribe an antibiotic and tell you to continue breastfeeding or pumping on your routine to make sure you’re emptying your breasts properly. Check out our review on the best breast pumps that you can use with mastitis. Treating mastitis doesn’t and shouldn’t stop there. You can do so much more!

Drink Extra Water

Mastitis makes you feel like you have a terrible case of the flu, but luckily, you aren’t contagious to the rest of your family. You might have a fever, body aches, and chills. I told you that mastitis is horrible!

Just like with any other infection, drinking the proper amount of fluids help your body fight off the infection and gives it the boost it needs. You aren’t limited to just water. Try coconut water, sports drinks, bone broth, or other yummy drinks. Some decaf herbal tea can be welcomed as well!

Take Hot Showers

When you feel horrible, stepping into a hot shower feels like stepping into heaven. The warmth of a shower helps to soften and relax your muscles, and your breasts are tight and sore right now. A hot shower will help you feel better while also improving your milk flow.

If your breasts can handle it, step into the shower and let the warm water stream flow onto your chest. It can feel great, especially if you massage your breasts at the same time. If it hurts too much, let the water hit your back and gently run down your shoulders, over your chest.

Massage Your Breasts

Another way to get the breast milk flowing is by using a gentle breast massage. It can help drain away from the clogged milk, making you feel so much better. You can massage your breasts or get help from your partner.

The best way to massage your breasts is to start on the outside of your breast and gently work your way towards the nipple. Base the pressure and length of the massage on your pain levels. If it doesn’t hurt too much, you can massage the lump or milk duct itself to get rid of the clog.

woman breastfeeding

Use a Warm Compress 

A warm compress can be an alternative to a hot shower. Let’s be honest; we’re moms, and we don’t always have time to stand in a hot shower! I use heat therapy as a hot shower replacement, but if I have mastitis or a clogged duct, I also use a warm compress every time I nurse my baby.

Hold the warm compress over the affected area as you breastfeed your baby. It can help loosen up the lump, kicking the clog to the curb. That’s the goal!

Make sure that you’re careful, though. A warm compress on your breast can feel wonderful, but the skin on your breast is sensitive, and you don’t want to burn your skin.

Nurse Frequently 

Now is the time to start nursing more often than you did before. Ensuring your breasts are adequately emptied is the best way to treat mastitis. Frequent nursing, combined with working with a lactation consultant to be sure baby is appropriately transferring the breast milk, are two key steps.

You can try breastfeeding in different positions, which applies pressure to various milk ducts in your breasts. Try the dangling feeding position, for example, which isn’t a normal one! Also, try to nurse on the affected breast as much as possible.

Spend Time Resting 

Now is the time to rest. You’re sick – seriously! You have an infection in your breast, and your body is telling you that you need to take this time to snuggle with your baby in bed as much as possible. Don’t worry about the dishes in the sink or the pile of laundry that needs to be folded.

Rest. You need it.

Take Lecithin

Lecithin can be used by nursing mothers to help prevent blocks in their milk ducts. It helps to decrease the viscosity of the milk, so it can pass through the ducts easier because it increases the number of polyunsaturated fats.

Nursing mothers can take the recommended dose of 1,200 milligrams four times per day. Most health food stores sell soy lecithin, but you also can purchase this supplement online. Lecithin is available in certain foods in high amounts, such as eggs, dairy products, beef, and peanuts.

Have You Had Mastitis?

Mastitis is an experience that you’re sure not to forget once you’ve had it. Thankfully, it can be easily treated once you recognize the symptoms. Make sure you pay attention to how your breasts feel and any tenderness. If you start to feel like you have flu and you have a painful lump in your breasts, head to your doctor quickly to start antibiotics.

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