Ouch! Breastfeeding with mastitis is one of the not-so-fun parts about nursing your baby.
Do you think you have mastitis? Have you had it in the past? Do you KEEP GETTING mastitis?
It’s an incredibly common problem, so there’s lots of good information about what to do if you have mastitis while breastfeeding.
Signs And Symptoms Of Mastitis
If you have mastitis, you will probably feel pretty horrible. One sign of mastitis is chills and a fever, basically just feeling like you have the flu. It’s not fun, and amazing that your breasts can make your whole body feel that way.
Additionally, your breasts will show signs of mastitis. You’ll probably have a red, warm, painful and inflamed area on one of your breasts. Mastitis usually doesn’t show up in both breasts, so you’ll likely notice it in just one. However, it CAN happen in both breasts so be aware of the symptoms.
Mastitis can last for hours, or it can last for up to a week. You can do some things to try and solve the problem sooner rather than later.
Breastfeeding With Infected Versus Noninfected Mastitis
Mastitis can be one of two different kinds- infected and noninfected. In reality, it’s the same thing but the method of treatment is different between the two.
If you have an infection, then you will need antibiotics to get rid of it. An infection might be the culprit if you have cracked nipples that your baby could have introduced bacteria into.
You’ll know it’s infected if it continues to get worse, and doesn’t go away after about 4 days. If this is the case, the only thing that will treat is is antibiotics. Be sure if you start antibiotics that you finish the entire course of antibiotics even if you start to feel better. If you don’t take ALL the antibiotics, the mastitis can come back with a vengeance.
Non infected mastitis is often caused by a clogged duct or stagnant milk in the breast. The best way to take care of this is to get that milk moving again! Non-infections mastitis will usually go away in 2-4 days so if you are getting close to the 4 day mark, call your doctor and get a prescription for antibiotics.
Causes Of Mastitis While Breastfeeding
You are probably wondering how you got it in the first place. There could be many causes of mastitis, and I’ll talk about the most common ones.
Nipple damage is common in the first weeks when your newborn baby is getting the hang of breastfeeding. While your breasts can be sore and painful, they really shouldn’t be severely damaged and bleeding. This would indicate that your baby is not latched on correctly. (Here’s how to get a good latch).
Not removing enough milk from your breast, frequently enough, is a common cause. If your milk sits and pools in your breast, it can cause mastitis. Sometimes you’ll feel a lump in your breast from a clogged duct.
Here are some things that can contribute to mastitis:
- Underwire bras. I strongly suggest that moms not use underwire bras while breastfeeding. They tend to cause all sorts of problems, clogged ducts and mastitis being the most common. The wires press into your breasts and prevent your milk ducts from draining effectively.
- A hard arm workout. Believe it or not, having a hard arm day at the gym can cause your milk to pool. It’s a combination of the small muscle damage that working out causes as well as wearing tight sports bras that cause the problem.
- Not feeding your baby frequently enough. If your milk is sitting in your breasts for an extended amount of time, you are at risk for clogged ducts and mastitis. Your milk needs to be removed so if you start feeling mastitis come on, the best thing to do is FEED IT OUT!
- Anything that compresses the breast for too long. This could include sleeping for too long on one side or wearing too tight of a shirt. I recommend wearing loose shirts and bras that aren’t too constrictive for your breasts while breastfeeding.
- Your diet. Many moms with recurrent mastitis report dietary patterns that cause mastitis. Diets high in carbohydrates, saturated fats and sugars tend to result in more frequent mastitis. This could be because bacteria feed on sugar, or because some foods increase the viscosity of breast milk.
- Engorgement. Around day 4 after birth, your milk should come in. You may experience your breasts feeling very full and swollen. Your milk supply will regulate, but engorgement may cause mastitis.
- Cracked nipples. When learning how to breastfeed immediately after birth, nipple pain is common. It shouldn’t be extreme, more like breaking in a new pair of shoes. Having cracked and bleeding nipple is a sign of a bad breastfeeding latch. Cracked and bleeding nipples allow bacteria to enter the breast and can cause mastitis.
Try to determine the cause of the mastitis. If clogged ducts contribute, there are some changes you can make to prevent it from recurring. If the mastitis is a result of bacteria entering the breast, antibiotics will likely need to be started. Try to prevent your milk from pooling to avoid recurrent mastitis.
Breastfeeding With Mastitis: Treatment & Prevention
Feed It Out
This is the most important part of treating mastitis. Getting your milk to flow will improve the outcome and could prevent you from needing antibiotics. Feed your baby frequently, especially from the affected breast. Sometimes mastitis can cause breast pain, but getting the milk moving is the best way to resolve it.
Rest assured that it’s safe for your baby to breastfeed when you have mastitis. If you think you have mastitis, feeding is the best thing to do for yourself and your baby!
Massage It Out
Again, try to get the milk moving and flowing. Your breasts are full of lymph vessels which work to draw toxins out. These lymph vessels need to be able to flow freely to resolve the mastitis. Breast massage also keeps the milk in your milk ducts from pooling.
You can lean forward and let your breasts hang in front of you. Move each of them, and if you feel any clogs in your breasts, gently massage around the lump. You can also use a hand-held massager or electric toothbrush to try and break up and stagnant milk in your breast.
Apply Moist Heat
Taking a HOT shower is a great way to recover from mastitis. Heat paired with moisture encourages your milk to flow and aids in treating engorgement. Try taking a hot shower and you might see your milk start to release.
You can also try pairing a hot shower with massage. This is often helpful when trying to prevent milk from pooling in your breasts. It’s also helpful to feed your baby right after taking a hot shower because your milk is able to move more freely.
Avoid Anything That Constricts Your Breasts
Try to avoid tight bras or bras with underwire. Clothing that is too tight can cause milk in your breasts to pool and contribute to mastitis. Bras without an underwire or no bra at all is recommended during a bout of mastitis.
Additionally, at night be careful about what you wear. Sometimes laying in one position can cause milk to pool in one area of your breasts. If necessary, place a towel underneath yourself and sleep without a shirt on. Mastitis can be prevented by allowing your breasts to drain in the night onto the towel rather than pool within your breasts.
Resolve Any Nipple And Feeding Problems
Breastfeeding can be painful in the beginning, but it should be more like breaking in a new pair of shoes. If you notice that your nipples are severely cracked and bleeding, it could be helpful to contact a lactation consultant. You may need to try and fix your breastfeeding latch so that your baby isn’t causing nipple damage during feedings.
If the mastitis occurs from bacteria entering your breasts from a cracked or damaged nipple, often antibiotics are necessary.
Watch Your Diet
If you are dealing with recurrent mastitis, it might be helpful to make some dietary changes. Some things you should avoid are oatmeal and other heavy grains, saturated fats like red meats, butter and whole milk products, and high levels of sugar.
Eat a diet high in vegetables and moderate in fruits. Lean meats such as fish and chicken are also a safe bet if you have recurring mastitis. You could also try adding a supplement to your diet called sunflower lecithin. It’s thought to make your breast milk less “sticky” and works wonders for some women with mastitis issues.
See Your Doctor For Antibiotics
If you’ve tried breast massage, feeding it out, wearing less restrictive clothing, and changing your diet then it might be time to visit your doctor. Mastitis sometimes resolves within a few hours, but should be resolved within 2 to 4 days.
If it’s been 4 days or longer, you may need antibiotics. It’s always a good idea to inform your doctor of what’s going on because mastitis can become a serious problem if it goes too long without treatment. Antibiotics are sometimes necessary to overcome it.
Breastfeeding with mastitis brings all sorts of questions. Each breastfeeding journey is unique and I hope this information helps you on your journey!
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.
Check out La Leche League’s information about mastitis and see if there’s a support group near you!