Mastitis is a common problem that makes breast tissue inflamed and sore. It affects 1 in 5 nursing moms and can turn your wonderful breastfeeding journey into an unpleasant and painful experience. The good thing is you can still prevent mastitis when breastfeeding if you follow certain precautions and take good care of yourself.
Having a thorough understanding of this condition and its symptoms can help you detect it before it gets any worse. So, here is a detailed article on mastitis with more emphasis on how to prevent mastitis when breastfeeding.
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is the inflammation of the breast that usually occurs in breastfeeding moms (hence called lactation mastitis). However, it can be developed in women who are not breastfeeding and even in men as well.
Based on the cause of mastitis, it can be either non-infective mastitis or infective mastitis. In nursing moms, non-infective mastitis occurs due to the inflammation in the blocked milk ducts. Under certain circumstances, a milk duct can get blocked and restrict the milk flow. Milk accumulates in the blocked ducts and gets thicker with time. It leads to inflammation and makes the affected area feel like a tender lump.
On the other hand, infected mastitis occurs when bacteria Staphylococcus aureus enters the breast tissue either through a cracked/damaged nipple or through the skin. To fight these germs, your body will produce certain chemicals that will cause inflammation. This type of mastitis is more common than the other type.
Symptoms of Mastitis
The following are the most common symptoms that may help you diagnose the real issue.
- 101 F or even higher fever
- Formation of red patches on the breast
- Formation of a hard lump in the breast
- Pain or itchiness on the breast
- Breast feels warm when breastfeeding the baby
- Swollen and tender breast
- Swollen lymph nodes under your arm
If you notice any of these symptoms, it is better to consult your doctor quickly so you can start an antibiotic if necessary. Non-infective mastitis may get better on its own if you carefully handle the affected area. On the other hand, infective mastitis may require antibiotics. If mastitis is not treated timely, puss can develop in the breast tissue and lead to a breast abscess.
Can You Breastfeed with Mastitis?
There is a misconception that mothers should not breastfeed their babies when they have developed this bacterial infection as these bacteria can harm the baby as well. But the truth is, breast milk has powerful antibacterial properties that can protect the baby from getting infected. Therefore, it is completely safe to breastfeed your baby when you have mastitis.
Breastfeeding when you have mastitis can speed up the recovery by reducing swelling and opening blocked milk ducts. On the contrary, delaying breastfeeding can make your breasts engorged which will increase the chances of the development of mastitis.
How to Prevent Mastitis when Breastfeeding
Mastitis usually develops in breastfeeding moms so how to prevent mastitis when breastfeeding is their common concern. Here are some expert tips to prevent mastitis when breastfeeding. Mastitis can also occur when women when their milk transitions from colostrum to mature milk and sometimes when they are trying to induce lactation as their body tries to regulate milk production.
1. Avoid Wearing too Tight or Restrictive Shirt/Brassiere
Excessive pressure on the milk ducts that cause hindrance in the milk flow can block ducts. So try to avoid wearing tight bras especially when your breasts are engorged or too full. It is also advised to not sleep on your stomach more often and use a baby carrier in which straps are not too tight.
2. Breastfeed the Baby Regularly
Regular breastfeeding empties the milk ducts and reduces the chance of mastitis development. Make sure you feed your baby every 2 to 3 hours or on-demand. Maintaining a healthy breastfeeding position is also important. So, hold your baby in the right position and put his chest on your chest for a good latch. It will also protect your nipples from becoming sore and will drain the breasts well.
3. Try Different Breastfeeding Positions
Using different breastfeeding positions when having a plugged duct can help you restore the milk flow and open that particular duct. Feed your baby on the breast that has a plugged duct. You can also massage that breast or apply heat while feeding the baby.
4. Use a Breast Pump When You’re Not Nursing Your Baby
If your baby is away or sleeps throughout the night without nursing then use a hand expression or a breast pump to keep the breast milk flowing. It is also helpful when you are weaning your baby and feel discomfort due to full breasts. When weaning, rather than stopping breastfeeding all of the sudden, try reducing it gradually.
5. Boost Your Immune System with a Healthy Diet
Infective mastitis can also be prevented if you increase the intake of foods that improve immunity. Foods that are rich in vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin C, selenium, zinc, and other essential nutrients should be a part of your diet.
Eat fresh fruits and green vegetables as they are a natural source of vitamins. Nuts, beans, and legumes are also rich in nutrients that enhance immunity. Keep healthy breastfeeding snacks near when you are breastfeeding your little one. Drink plenty of water to maintain a normal body fluid level.
6. Keep Your Breasts Clean to Prevent Infection
Bacteria that cause mastitis are usually found on the human skin. To prevent infective mastitis, it is important to maintain body hygiene. Do not neglect your health while taking care of your baby’s health because no mother would like getting sick when there is a baby beside her who needs her time and attention.
As breast milk has amazing antiseptic properties so use it for your own good. After feeding your baby, rub a few drops of your milk on your nipple and let it dry. Place the nursing pad on it once you notice that the milk has dried. If you have itchy or dry nipples, apply a nipple cream or coconut oil to reduce dryness and relieve the pain.
7. Reach out to a Lactation Consultant
To avoid mastitis-like complications during breastfeeding and to learn useful breastfeeding techniques, it is better to seek a lactation consultant. We can help you determine the factors that can lead to mastitis, provide you with a proper plan to avoid it, and even if you have developed it, we can guide you on how to reduce its recurrence.