Mastitis Breast Inflammation

Mastitis is a breast inflammation most common in lactating women who breastfeed for the first six months of an infant’s life.  It is caused by an infection with symptoms that appear to be very similar to flu, such as body aches, fatigue, chills and fever.  Mastitis can be quite painful, but can be cleared up with the right medication or simply resolves on its own.  Mothers can often continue to nurse without harming their baby.  In fact it’s encouraged and can actually help to clear up the infection.

What factors cause mastitis?

Mastitis often occurs when bacteria enters the breast through a cracked or sore nipple.  Some other factors that cause mastitis may be when mothers go for long periods of time without breastfeeding or failing to empty the breast completely.  Women can avoid cracked nipples by switching up different breast-feeding techniques.   Also making sure the baby is latched on properly will help with emptying the breast completely at each feeding.     Women who breastfeed are more likely to get mastitis if they also have these risk factors:

  • Anemia.  Anemia or low iron will make anyone tire faster and lower their resistance to infections like mastitis.
  • Blocked milk ducts.  When milk output has decreased, the best thing to do is to continue breastfeeding making sure the breast is completely empty.  Often a plugged or blocked duct will work itself out, but the area may remain red and swollen for a few days.
  • Irritated, cracked or sore nipples.  Any of these risk factors can be caused by poor latching on techniques or poor posture.
  • Skipping or delaying breast-pumping or breastfeeding.  Without breastfeeding or a breast pumping session that fully removes the milk, breasts become engorged or too full and can lead to plugged ducts which cause mastitis.
  • A previous occurrence of mastitis.

For most mothers, the occurrence of mastitis happens within the baby’s first two months although it can happen at any time.  The rate of mastitis episodes seem to dwindle after 2 months of age when the baby has a more regular feeding pattern.

What are the symptoms of mastitis?

Generally, mastitis begins with a painful area in one breast that looks red and swollen.  It may also be warm to the touch.  It’s also not unusual to have a fever, feel chilled or have body aches.   Swollen, painful lymph nodes in the armpit near the infected breast, a fast heart rate and flu-like symptoms are all signs that the mastitis has worsen.  If untreated, mastitis can lead to an abscess which feels like a hard painful mass.

How is mastitis treated?

Mastitis can be treated with antibiotics, but for the best outcome women need to take the entire prescription even if they feel better.  Taking medication for mastitis will not harm the baby.  In the meantime, there are things mothers can do to relieve the pain and soreness.   It is recommended that women get plenty of bed rest, increase their fluid intake and if possible, get help around the house.   Warm or cold packs placed on the infected area may also help with the soreness.

Breastfeeding from the breast infected with mastitis is perfectly safe for the baby, and is highly recommended.  Before breastfeeding your baby, place a warm, wet cloth over the infected breast for about 15 minutes.  Doing this at least 3 times a day as well as gently massaging the breast may also increase the flow of milk.

If it’s too painful to nurse, try nursing with the healthy breast or use a breast pump for milk removal from the infected breast.  It’s very important to get treatment for mastitis sooner rather than later, as an abscess is far more difficult to treat.  If possible get help from a certified lactation consultant.  It may make all the difference in the world.