Breastfeeding is another special time in a woman’s life. Aside from the benefit of continuing to nourish your baby, this is also a great way to bond and connect with each other. However, just like pregnancy, breastfeeding is not always rainbows and butterflies.
While some women cannot produce enough milk for their baby, others who can may experience initial pain and discomfort of the breasts; a condition called mastitis. To know more about mastitis, what causes it, what are the symptoms, and what you can do about it, continue reading to the next sections.
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is a condition where a woman’s breast tissues become inflamed and painful. It usually occurs in breastfeeding mothers, often during the first three months after childbirth. This is called lactation or puerperal mastitis. Mastitis in non-breastfeeding women is another type termed periductal mastitis.
Causes of mastitis
Mastitis can either be due to an infection or not. Mastitis that is not infected is usually caused by a blockage of the milk ducts in the breast, called milk stasis. Because of this, milk build up is forced into the surrounding tissues, resulting to inflammation and pain.
Infectious mastitis is caused by bacteria. When left untreated, the former may develop infection. This usually happens to women who are not breastfeeding but have acquired infection through a damaged, sore, cracked, or wounded nipple which may be due to piercing.
Other factors that may lead to milk stasis and eventually mastitis are:
- Inability of your baby to properly latch onto the breast while feeding
- Your baby having some problems in sucking due to tongue tie and other issues
- Infrequent, irregular, or missing feeding
- Breasts that produce too much milk and are too full
- Ceasing to breastfeed abruptly
- An overly tight bra or clothes
- Failure to empty your breast through pumping or feeding
Symptoms of mastitis
Mastitis typically affects only one breast and the symptoms seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere. These symptoms may include the following:
- Redness, soreness, and swelling of the breast
- Breasts that feel hot and are tender or painful when touched
- A sort of hard lump in the breast
- Shooting pain in the breast that may be constant or occurring only during breastfeeding
- Unusual nipple discharge that may contain streaks of blood
- Flu-like symptoms such as body and joint aches, high fever, fatigue, and chills
- The skin on the breast may appear shiny with red streaks
Why you need to continue breastfeeding with mastitis
I know the symptoms of mastitis can be painful and uncomfortable. However, continuing to breastfeed regularly and frequently can actually help relieve the symptoms by:
- Removing the blocked breastmilk to clear the clogged milk duct
- Resolving symptoms quickly by drawing out the cause of discomfort
- Preventing the condition to worsen or progress to something more serious
And don’t worry, although it may seem otherwise, it is perfectly safe for your baby to consume milk from an affected breast. However, it may be saltier than usual. If you’re not confident enough to feed this to your baby, you can always use a breast pump.
7 Tips on Managing Mastitis
Most mastitis cases related to breastfeeding can be significantly improved by continuing to feed your baby and by doing the following self-care tips:
1. Get adequate rest.
Being a new mother is tough, especially during the first few months. Do yourself and your baby a favour by getting plenty of rest. Have your spouse or a trusted friend or family member to take care of your baby while you get some shut-eye.
You can also take naps while your baby is napping. This will give you enough energy to get through the day.
2. Drink plenty of fluids.
When breastfeeding, you release fluid from your body. To produce enough milk, your body needs proper hydration and nutrition. Make sure to drink at least eight glasses of water every day.
3. Relieve your pain.
To effectively relieve pain on your breasts, place a piece of clean cloth soaked in warm water over it. A warm bath or shower may also help.
You could also try a cold compress, or alternating it with warm compress. This also aids in reducing inflammation. Combine these with gentle massages for better results.
4. Take medications.
Feel free to take an ibuprofen-based painkiller. This will help reduce pain, fever, and inflammation. Over-the-counter drugs like this and paracetamol are safer to use. A small amount may go into your breast milk, but this is not enough to cause your baby harm. Remember, it is not advisable for breastfeeding moms to take aspirin.
5. Free your breasts.
Avoid wearing clothes that are too tight, even bras, until your mastitis symptoms are completely gone. Restricting your breasts may worsen the pain and discomfort, as well as encourage more milk blockage.
6. Extract your milk.
The best thing to do to avoid stuck milk is to squeeze it out. Do this by allowing your baby to feed more frequently, express excess milk that remains after feeding, and pump your milk between feeding sessions.
Make sure that your baby is properly attached to your breast. You can also adjust your position so that your baby ends up stimulating the affected area better.
Because your milk may taste salty because of the inflammation, your baby may refuse to latch. If this happens, you can use a pump to avoid leftover milk from building up or massage your breasts to extract milk, preferably under a warm shower.
7. Try physiotherapy.
A women physiotherapist is someone who can help relieve your symptoms of blocked ducts, breast engorgement, or mastitis. Therapeutic ultrasound can be used as a holistic treatment that usually helps women breastfeed their baby.
Therapists may also use their own hands to stimulate muscles of the whole body and relieve pain. Other therapeutic techniques include water therapy and acupuncture.
Physiotherapy can also help prevent or treat other conditions that you may be experiencing after giving birth. These include general incontinence, back and sciatic pain, poor abdominal muscle tone, C section scar pain, and pelvic dysfunction.
Pelvic floor physical therapy is also another popular method to treat aches and pains after birth for a faster and better recovery.
Mastitis could be difficult, especially when the time you could be spending taking care of your baby is sacrificed. Fortunately, you don’t have to stop breastfeeding but only need to be mindful of your own body’s needs as well.
With proper self-care and support from your family and proper medical attention and treatment from your doctor, you can successfully overcome mastitis and its symptoms.