For many women, breastfeeding is synonymous with well-being and emotional bonding with the baby.
What is mastitis?
Today, breastfeeding is a natural for a great number of parents. Its benefits have been proven many times over. When all goes well, it brings joy and peace to both mother and child. However, complications can arise and cast a shadow over these joyous moments. This is the case for mothers who must deal with mastitis.
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast tissue that can affect breastfeeding women. It may or may not be infectious in nature. Infectious mastitis is caused by the spread of bacteria in the breast, often originating from small cracks in the nipple.
Non-infectious mastitis is mainly attributed to milk stasis (obstruction or slowed milk flow), and may be caused by a clogged milk duct, for instance. In some circumstances, it may develop into an infectious form.
Ideally, the occurrence of mastitis should not jeopardize your decision to breastfeed. Before discontinuing to breastfeed, speak to a healthcare professional, who will tell you what you can do about it.
Who is at risk of mastitis?
Mastitis affects one breast and sometimes both. Although it can occur at any time during breastfeeding, it often occurs in the six weeks following childbirth. It is more common in women who have had cracked nipples or when the breast stays engorged for too long.
Poor latch is one of the main risk factors of mastitis, so one of the basic prevention and treatment measures is to review breastfeeding techniques. Weaning too quickly can also be a contributing factor.
It is not clear why some women develop mastitis and others do not.
What are the signs and symptoms of mastitis?
The most common signs and symptoms of mastitis include the following:
- hard, red or swollen area of the breast
- breast tenderness or pain
- sensation of warmth in the breast
- nipple discharge
- muscle aches and pains
- general malaise
- flu-like symptoms
If the following signs and symptoms occur, it may be advisable to see a doctor promptly:
- high fever lasting more than 24 hours
- bleeding nipple
- intense pain that lasts throughout the feeding
In the most severe cases or if left untreated, mastitis can lead to complications such as a breast abscess or septicemia (blood infection).
How is mastitis treated?
A prescribed antibiotic may be indicated if you have infectious mastitis. Your doctor will choose an antibiotic based on the type of infection, your health, and whether or not you are breastfeeding. It is important that you tell your doctor about your history of drug allergies, as they may be subject to the antibiotics used in this context.
If you are taking an antibiotic, you should see an improvement of your symptoms within two or three days. It is crucial to take your medication as prescribed, consistently, until the end of your treatment period. If you do not see any improvement after a few days, contact your doctor.
Regardless of the type of mastitis, if you feel pain, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever (a product containing acetaminophen or ibuprofen, for instance). Always ask your pharmacist for advice before taking any over-the-counter medication, especially if you are breastfeeding.
What more can I do?
If you have mastitis, here is some practical advice:
- First, don't give up breastfeeding. It won't benefit you or your baby and may even make things worse.
- Breastfeed more often (ideally 8 to 12 times a day) and try to vary breastfeeding positions.
- Consult a breastfeeding specialist to review your technique. It is important that breastfeeding is effective and that your breasts are emptied during feedings.
- Gently massage the affected breast while you breastfeed, using circular motions.
- Consider using a breast pump to remove excess milk after a feeding, if necessary. Milk stasis should be avoided.
- Apply warm compresses to the breast before a feeding, and cold compresses between feedings.
- Wear a well-adjusted bra that is not too tight.
- Get some rest. Breastfeeding can be tiring, especially when you are having difficulties.
- Stay well hydrated; drink plenty of water.
- Take your temperature regularly to see if you have a fever.
Finally, mastitis can be one of the obstacles that stand in the way of a new mother. By being well informed, you can limit the extent and duration of these inconveniences. Ideally, nourishing your baby in the most natural way possible should be gentle, not painful!
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist for additional information about mastitis.