When my son was about three weeks old I woke up with an extremely sore breast and began feeling like I had come down with a nasty flu. As I tried to get ready for the day I felt extremely cold and proceeded to put on my heaviest sweatshirt and climb back into my bed as I asked my husband to bring me some tea and an extra blanket. Luckily, because of my experience with breastfeeding mothers, I recognized my ailment right away. My sympathy goes out to anyone who has experienced mastitis, it is truly miserable. Thankfully mastitis is not always as severe as it was in my case. The term “mastitis” refers to any inflammation of the breast and there are various causes including:
- ineffective draining of the breast caused by a poor latch
- damage to the nipple
- scheduled feedings
- limiting the length of feedings
- nursing strikes
- pressure on the breast (such as a tight bra, or sleeping on stomach)
I am pretty sure that stomach sleeping was the cause of my mastitis, it’s so hard to resist when you had been forced to sleep on your back or side during pregnancy! Most cases of mastitis begin with a plugged duct that escalates into an infection; so it is important to recognize plugged ducts and begin to combat them right away (I will be posting information on plugged ducts soon!)
So now you might be thinking “Okay this is all great, but I think I have mastitis so what do I do about it?” There are several things that can be done to help you get on your way toward recovery:
- Nurse, Nurse, Nurse! You need to get that breast drained; so climb into bed and nurse your baby as often as you can. If you can power through the pain, always begin with the infected breast as your baby’s suck will be strongest during the beginning of the feeding. Aim to breastfeed at least every 2 hours.
- Get Comfy – You are not feeling well and need to rest. So put on some loose clothes(or go topless) and get as much rest as you can. Get some help if at all possible; if ever there was a time to call in a favor – now is it.
- Check the latch – Your baby needs a good latch to be removing milk effectively. If you feel like your baby’s latch might need some help then call a La Leche League Leader or an IBCLC. They will also be able to give you some more tips for dealing with mastitis that are relevant to your specific situation.
- Massage – Massage your breast down toward the nipple while your baby is nursing, this may help to loosen any plug.
- Soak – Soak your breast a few times a day to loosen any milk that may be dried to the nipple. You can do this by placing your breast in a warm basin of water for a few minutes, or take a nice relaxing bath and lie on your side. Try massaging your breast in the bath tub (I have gotten more plugs loose this way than any other).
An antibiotic may be needed if a fever is present for longer than 24 hours or if you are showing signs of a bacterial infection such as a cracked nipple, blood in your milk, or red streaks at the infection site. Remember to call an IBCLC if you are feeling concerned about the severity of your symptoms. I hope you feel better soon!