We have all heard the benefits of breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics and pediatricians advocate breastfeeding in the first 6 months. Breastfeeding benefits are well known and there are many!
To name just a few:
- Breast milk has all the nutrients your baby needs in the first 6 months.
- Breast milk has your antibodies to help your baby fight infections in the first few months.
- Babies that are breastfeed in the first six months tend to have less ear infections, diarrhea and respiratory infections.
- For mom, it may reduce risks of breast and ovarian cancer and postpartum depression.
- For both baby and mom, it creates great bonding.
As there are many articles and blogs written this month about breast feeding during breast feeding awareness month, I wanted to discuss another related nursing topic that is not so frequently written about but not so uncommon either: Mastitis. With your awareness of what it is and knowledge how to prevent, you can decrease your chances of developing it and if you do develop symptoms of mastitis, you know how to recognize it and promptly get treated.
What is mastitis?
Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland in the breast. When an area of the breast doesn’t drain, it can get infected. This infection is usually due to a bacterial infection.
What are symptoms and how do you know if this is just regular breastfeeding pain?
With nursing, you can experience discomfort at the start of a feed that improves within minutes of feeding. If baby isn’t latching on properly or is not positioned well, the pain continues but resolves with repositioning. If the nipple is cracked you can also experience pain. With mastitis, the area of infection will be extremely painful, red, swollen or burn and often you may have fever, chills and flu-like symptoms that comes on quickly and you continue to get worse quickly not better.
What are some risk factors?
- Skipping or delaying pump sessions or feedings and therefore not emptying your breasts regularly and they get engorged
- Cracked or irritated nipples
- Stress, run down, lack of rest
- The first few months of the baby’s life when feeding timings are not a regular pattern, although you can get anytime. (I actually experienced this infection when my baby was 9 months of age)
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor will treat based on your signs and symptoms. Be sure to call your doctor if you experience any symptoms of mastitis or have any concerns about a possible infection. Risk of delaying treatment can lead to an abscess, which is harder to treat.
What is the treatment?
The good news is, if treated early, antibiotics usually treats mastitis and improves symptoms typically in the first 24 hours. It is important to complete the full course of antibiotics even when you are feeling better. Also, you can keep breastfeeding with mastitis! Often moms are concerned they will need to stop and this is not the case. Your doctor will give you an antibiotic that you can continue to nurse with. Nursing (or pumping) also actually helps the infection heal faster. It may be too painful to feed, but try the best you can or start with the unaffected breast. Warm compresses can help topically along with gentle massage. You can take acetaminophen or Ibuprofen for fever or pain. Ensure you get rest, as mentioned can add to the risk of getting mastitis, and drink plenty of water.
What is it like to experience mastitis?
As a physician, I knew about mastitis but still I often pushed off pumping and only had time to do one pump session for the day at work. I sometimes didn’t get a chance to do at all. One day last year at a family lunch when my son was about 9 months of age and I was still purely nursing and pumping, my right breast started to hurt. I massaged the small bump throughout the meal (shameless mom but it hurt!) and I kept thinking it was just breast tenderness I’ve had before from nursing. Within the hour, the pain escalated, I was sweating and felt hot and needed to say good bye to everyone as I knew something was wrong. I rushed home and took my temperature which was 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately I knew right then what was going on (mastitis!) and called my doctor. He immediately treated me with antibiotics and I continued nursing despite the pain and within 24 hours I was feeling better. Subsequently, as delaying pumping and lack of rest as mentioned are risk factors, I made sure I pumped and/or nursed regularly for the remainder of the time I breastfed my son and also continued to ensure I rested when I started to feel run down.
Best suggestions for preventing mastitis?
Try to rest as much as you can, drink plenty of fluids, ensure you pump or nurse regularly and if you are engorged, pump or nurse. I know this is easier said than done for busy moms but you will feel better all-around and also prevent your chances of mastitis.
Knowing how to prevent and also recognize mastitis, can help you avoid this infection and if you do develop it, get promptly treated to feel better quickly and decrease any complications.