Last Updated on March 10, 2023 by Jada Glover
Mastitis occurs in breastfeeding moms when breast tissue becomes inflamed. According to new research by the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, it happens as a result of the narrowing of milk ducts caused by an oversupply of milk or disruption of the breast microbiome.
The narrowing of the milk ducts results in congestion and inflammation in the breast, and sometimes overgrowth of bacteria. The breast microbiome can be disrupted by maternal genetics, medical conditions, and exposure to antibiotics.
It then can lose bacterial diversity leading to inflammation increases, and allowing more bad bacteria in. As a worst case scenario and if you’re not properly managing your milk flow, mastitis can occur when your baby starts sleeping through the night.
The good thing is you can take precautions to help avoid getting mastitis. If you follow certain protocols and take good care of yourself when your baby sleeps through the night you can prevent getting mastitis. It’s important to get optimal nutrition for you and your baby’s gut microbiome.
Having a thorough understanding of this condition and its symptoms can help you detect it before it gets any worse. So, let’s dive in to learn more about the new protocols including how to prevent mastitis when your baby sleeps through the night.
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What Is Mastitis?
Mastitis is the inflammation of the breast that usually occurs in breastfeeding moms. It is inflammation in the mammary gland and impacts milk ducts, alveoli (grape-like clusters that hold your milk in sacs in the breast before it is carried through ducts to your nipple and out of your breast), and surrounding connective tissue.
There are actually two types of mastitis – inflammatory mastitis and bacterial mastitis. Inflammatory mastitis often occurs when there is either a disruption of the good bacteria and other elements in the milk production area, or hyperlactation (oversupply of breast milk).
This can result in narrowing of the milk ducts, causing swelling and inflammation in the breast. Moms typically get a fever, chills, and sometimes an increased heart rate. When inflammatory mastitis worsens and is not responding to basic treatments (see treatment protocols below), this can lead to bacteria overgrowth, which can even block the milk duct altogether.
Mastitis typically occurs in one breast. And according to the latest research…
“No evidence exists that suggests a specific food causes mastitis, although dietary choices may reflect the underlying health and microbiome of an individual.”Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Clinical Protocol #36: The Mastitis Spectrum, Revised 2022
You could be at risk for mastitis more so if you are taking a lot of heavy antibiotics, not eating a diverse array of whole foods (including probiotic/fermented foods), or eating processed foods a lot.
These things could wreak havoc on your body, causing issues in your microbiome, potentially leading to mastitis if your body isn’t able to fight off invaders.
Why Are Breastfeeding Moms At Risk For Mastitis When Their Baby Sleeps Through The Night?
Breastfeeding moms can be at risk for mastitis when their baby sleeps through the night if they are limiting the amount of milk that can flow out of their breasts because their baby all of a sudden stops nursing during the night. When this suddenly happens one night after your baby has been nursing through the night, this can cause an oversupply in your breasts.
It takes your breasts time to slow down milk production, just like it took your breasts time to ramp up milk production. And when you’re not expecting your baby to sleep through the night, and then suddenly he/she does, this can lead to more milk being produced but not expressed (unless you get up to express your milk).
In turn, this can lead to engorgement, and potentially progress to bacterial mastitis if you aren’t managing your milk flow. But, it doesn’t have to be complicated because our bodies can self-regulate.
Do I Need To Pump At Night When Baby Sleeps Through The Night To Prevent Mastitis?
You do not necessarily need to pump to avoid mastitis when your baby sleeps through the night. However, for the first few days you may want to. This way you can determine if your baby is going to continue sleeping through the night.
If you get lucky one night and your baby decides to sleep through the night and then doesn’t repeat that behavior again, you will want to get up at night to pump so that your supply doesn’t drop. He/she may have slept through the night once, or does every once in awhile, but that isn’t the norm.
If, however, your baby continues to sleep through the night, and makes that his/her new routine, you can get up to pump or hand express just enough to relieve pressure in your breasts.
Unresolved oversupply can lead to an infection in your breast. Gradually reducing supply is always key if this is your goal for nighttime.
Your body will regulate milk production (slow down in this case) on its own if you are not pumping or nursing your baby at night. I know – it’s amazing!
So before you worry about getting up every night to pump, if your baby isn’t taking a bottle and isn’t nursing at the breast, you may be able to let your body self-regulate gradually. If your baby is sleeping peacefully through the night, just get up if you start to feel like your breasts are full, hand express a little with a manual pump to comfort, and go back to sleep! We all know that sleep is precious.
How To Avoid Mastitis When Your Baby Sleeps Through The Night
Here are some expert tips on how to avoid mastitis when your baby sleeps through the night. This will allow you to enjoy your breastfeeding experience and not worry about getting a breast infection.
1. Avoid Wearing Too Tight or Restrictive Shirts/Bras
Excessive pressure on the breasts can cause reduced milk flow and can block milk ducts. Try to avoid wearing tight bras, especially if your breasts are engorged.
If you’re exercising, avoid tight sports bras that compress your breasts too much as this can have the same effect.
2. Breastfeed Your Baby Regularly at Other Times
Regular breastfeeding other than night time empties the milk ducts. This reduces the chance of mastitis development and will help you avoid getting mastitis when your baby sleeps through the night.
Do make sure you feed your baby on-demand. Maintaining a good breastfeeding position is also important. It will protect your nipples from becoming sore and will help your baby get the best latch.
3. Avoid Excessive Breast Massage
Using forceful breast massage can actually do more harm than good. If you already have mastitis, it can lead to an abscess.
Gently massaging your breasts during hand expression or pumping is okay. Easy does it when you’re doing breast massage for hands-on pumping. Use light pressure and avoid excessive force.
4. Avoid Unnecessary Pumping
When you use a breast pump, you are telling your body to produce more milk. So if you are experiencing an oversupply, breastfeeding at the breast is best because it allows a healthy exchange of bacteria between your breast and your baby. It also helps to better regulate production based exclusively on your baby’s needs.
When you overstimulate your breasts by over-pumping, this will actually tell your body to make more milk and could lead to hyperstimulation. If your baby is sleeping through the night, you can avoid mastitis by hand expressing enough to relieve the pressure.
Or, use a manual hands-on pump to express enough to relieve pressure and the uncomfortable full feeling.
Allow your body to regulate milk supply at night time so you don’t end up producing more than you need. If oversupply or engorgement is left untreated, milk ducts can get backed up which may lead to infection or mastitis if unmanaged.
4. Use a Breast Pump When You’re Not Nursing Your Baby
There are times when you should use a breast pump. If your baby is away from you and drinking a bottle, be sure you are pumping to replace that bottle and to maintain milk flow. If your baby is sleeping through the night without nursing then use hand expression or a breast pump to keep the breast milk flowing.
Hand expression is also helpful when you are weaning your baby and feel discomfort due to full breasts. If weaning your baby, rather than stopping breastfeeding all of a sudden, try reducing breast milk supply gradually.
5. Boost Your Immune System With a Healthy Diet
Infective mastitis can be prevented if you increase the intake of foods that improve immunity. Foods that are rich in vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin C, selenium, iodine, choline, iron, zinc, and other essential nutrients should be a part of your diet.
Fiber is also important to gut health, which is important to a well-functioning immune system and the absorption of nutrients from food. If you’re not able to absorb nutrients from what you’re eating that can cause a weaker immune system. If you have a weak immune system, you could be more prone to infections like mastitis.
Eat fresh fruits and green vegetables as they are a natural source of vitamins and fiber. Eggs, nuts, seeds, whole sprouted grains, and legumes are also rich in nutrients that enhance immunity.
Keep healthy breastfeeding snacks nearby when you are breastfeeding your little one. Drink plenty of water and add electrolytes on occasion to give you minerals and to stay hydrated.
6. Take a Probiotic Daily for Mastitis Prevention
Probiotics are a great way to help keep your gut microbiome healthy, immune system strong, and digestive system working so that your body can fight off bad bacteria if it enters your body.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, Greek yogurt, and kombucha can also offer probiotics for healthy gut bacteria. Unfortunately due to our food system, we aren’t set up to get the good probiotics as much through our food (even fruits and vegetables).
Supplementation is very helpful in this case. Find a probiotic that you can take daily with at least these two strains to help prevent mastitis:
- L. fermentum
- L. salivarius
This one below by Garden of Life has both of these strains plus prebiotics and is a great choice.
7. Reach Out To a Lactation Consultant Or Naturopathic Doctor
If you get mastitis and you develop an abscess or you have symptoms that are not subsiding after 24 or 48 hours, please seek medical care for yourself.
To avoid mastitis-like complications during breastfeeding and to learn useful breastfeeding techniques, it is better to seek a lactation consultant. Lactation consultants 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, guide you on how to reduce its recurrence.
A naturopathic doctor can also do testing on your breast milk to help determine the cause of recurrent mastitis if you are prone to getting it. They tend to take a more natural approach and get to the root of the problem so that you can continue breastfeeding your baby.
How To Treat Plugged Ducts When Baby Sleeps Through The Night To Avoid Mastitis
Be sure you are getting up to release that milk during the night, either hand expression or with a manual pump if your baby sleeps through the night. If your baby continuously sleeps through the night, and you’ve been pumping to keep up with bottles, gradually taper off those night expressions so that your body can regulate.
If you’ve been nursing at the breast, you can hand express to relieve pressure and allow your body to reduce milk supply for your baby. 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 very lightly massage that breast or apply warm water from the shower head to help loosen up the milk. If it feels inflamed or red, this could actually be mastitis, so apply cold rather than heat to reduce inflammation.
Choline is a great supplement that helps to improve milk flow. It is also essential for baby’s brain and nervous system development. Sunflower lecithin which is recommended for plugged ducts is successful in helping because it contains choline.
Symptoms Of Mastitis
The following are the most common symptoms that may help you diagnose whether you have mastitis early on.
- 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 are experiencing any of these symptoms and they continue to worsen over 24-48 hours, consult medical care so that you can determine if an antibiotic is needed.
What to do if you get mastitis When Your Baby Sleeps Through The Night
If you think you are getting mastitis, follow the below protocols. If your symptoms don’t improve, you may need to take an antibiotic (make sure you take a probiotic also).
- Avoid overstimulation and pumping excessively. Hand express to comfort if need be during the night.
- Breastfeed on demand.
- Avoid a breast pump and nipple shields if possible (nurse at the breast instead, follow baby’s lead).
- Use a cold compress after feeding or pumping (not hot) to reduce inflammation.
- Use gentle massage on your breasts, like light sweeping motions.
- Take an over-the-counter pain medication if need be like ibuprofen.
- Start a probiotic immediately if you’re not already taking one.
- Eat healthy!
- Reserve antibiotics for bacterial mastitis.
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, it is completely safe to breastfeed your baby when you have mastitis. Mastitis is not contagious and will not spread to your baby if you breastfeed.
There is also no evidence that shows bacterial mastitis is caused by poor hygiene. Simply wash your hands before milk expression and practice basic pump cleaning practices.
Breastfeeding at the breast 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.
Now you know how to avoid mastitis when your baby sleeps through the night!
It’s important that you continue to breastfeed at other times of the day so that your milk continues to flow. Maintain a healthy diet to keep your immune system strong, take a good probiotic, and only pump or hand express when you need to.
And last, but certainly not least, enjoy the extra sleep your baby is giving you!
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