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Breastfeeding Care

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Mastitis

Breastfeeding should be a joyful experience for both mom and baby. However, it is taxing on the mother’s body and sometimes, unpleasant complications do occur. One such complication is mastitis, a condition that must receive medical attention.

WHAT IS MASTITIS?

Mastitis is a painful infection of the breast tissue that affects some breastfeeding women. It usually occurs within the first six weeks after delivery, but can happen at any stage during breastfeeding. The infection, which tends to affect only one breast, will leave you feeling sick and fatigued – making nursing and caring for your baby difficult.

Should you get mastitis, don’t feel that you must wean your baby. You can continue feeding, as the infection is relatively easy to treat and will pass without any harm being done to your newborn.

WHAT CAUSES MASTITIS?

Mastitis is a common, benign condition caused by bacteria from your skin’s surface or your baby’s mouth entering the breast. Bacteria can enter through a crack in the nipple or through the opening to the milk ducts in the nipple.

Think of the breast as a wagon wheel. It is made up of several glands and ducts that lead to the nipple and areola. The milk-ducts extend from the nipple into the underlying breast tissue like spokes. Under the areola are lactiferous ducts, which fill with milk during lactation. From the time of puberty, hormones cause the ducts to grow and fat deposits in the breast tissue increase. The mammary glands that produce milk are connected to the surface of the breast by the lactiferous ducts and extend to the armpit area.

Although sore and cracked nipples increase your risk of mastitis, the infection can develop without broken skin being present. Other factors that place you at greater risk are:

  • Wearing a bra that is too tight. A tight-fitting bra exerts pressure on the delicate breast tissue and milk ducts and can restrict milk flow.
  • Not fully draining a breast while feeding, usually caused by only feeding in one position.
  • If you have previously suffered with mastitis, you are more likely to experience it again.
  • Women with diabetes, chronic illness, AIDS, or an impaired immune system may be more susceptible.
  • Chronic mastitis can occur in women who are not breastfeeding.

 

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Symptoms of mastitis appear suddenly and you will probably experience flu-like symptoms before you are even aware that there is a problem with one of your breasts.  As the infection spreads, it will lead to redness, pain and swelling of the breast.

Specific symptoms may include:

  • Exhaustion and feeling generally under the weather
  • Continuous pain and burning while nursing
  • Breast pain or warmth
  • Swelling of the breast
  • Skin redness
  • Fever of 38.3°C or higher 

 

Sometimes mastitis is complicated through the development of a breast abscess, which is essentially a pocket of pus. This is more serious and may occur if mastitis is left untreated.

WHAT TO DO

If you have a combination of flu symptoms, fever and a painful, red breast – call a doctor immediately. Your doctor will more than likely want to see you in person to make a proper diagnosis via a physical exam. Oral antibiotics are usually effective and should clear the mastitis within two days. If your symptoms persist for much longer than this, consult with your doctor to rule out any more serious conditions.

Despite the pain, do not stop breastfeeding from the affected breast. The infection will not harm the baby and emptying the breast prevents engorgement and clogged ducts that make mastitis worse. If necessary, use a breast pump to empty the breast completely.

CAN MASTITIS BE PREVENTED?

Sometimes mastitis is simply unavoidable, but following these tips will minimise the risks:

  • Allow your baby to completely drain one breast before switching to the other side. If your baby does not feed from the other breast, or only does so for a few minutes, start with that breast at the next feed
  • Vary the positions you use to breast-feed
  • Make sure your baby latches on properly during feedings, taking the whole areola in his mouth with his tongue positioned under your nipple
  • Keep yourself healthy by drinking plenty of water and eating well-balanced meals
  • Keep your hands, nipples and baby clean

Click here to read more about breast care while breastfeeding.

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