Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast due to an infection. It mostly happens in breastfeeding women. Mastitis is an infection in the mammary gland tissue. It can be either infective or non-infective. Non-infective mastitis can occur because of improper drainage or blockage of milk ducts.
Whereas, entry of bacteria through cracked nipples can cause infective mastitis. Every breastfeeding woman should know how to prevent mastitis.
Common symptoms of mastitis are fever, chills, swelling, and breast pain. Overall, it causes a lot of discomfort and pain. It also makes a lot of mothers wean their babies before they want to. Learning how to prevent mastitis can help you and your baby in a healthy breastfeeding journey.
1. Causes of Mastitis
The most common reason for mastitis is blockage of a milk duct. Other reasons might include:
1. Improper drainage: When there is an improper drainage of milk it can lead to the backup of milk. This can be because of less feeding time for the baby. The bacteria present in milk can cause an infection.
2. Bacteria transfer Some bacteria from your skin and baby’s mouth to the milk ducts through a cracked nipple.
3. Breast engorgement due to infrequent feeding
4. Pressure on the breasts due to an ill-fitting and tight bra or seat belt.
5. Previous blocked ducts: If you have had a blocked duct in the past then you have a higher chance of getting one again.
6. Poor physical health of the baby or the mother
2. How to Prevent Mastitis?
Mastitis can be easily prevented by a few simple techniques. The simplest thing a mother can do to prevent it is proper breastfeeding techniques and schedule. Regularly feeding your baby can help prevent the backing up of milk and blockage of milk ducts.
Some simple tips to prevent mastitis are given below:
2.1 Breastfeed Regularly:
Ideally, you should feed your baby within one hour of delivery. Do not skip or delay feedings. Be regular with your schedule. Breastfeed whenever your baby is hungry. You might even have to wake up your child to breastfeed, especially in the first few days. Regular feeding will ensure that there is no milk backup.
2.2 Breast Pump:
Using a breast pump is beneficial when you are going to be away from your baby for a prolonged period of time. You can pump out the milk and store it for later use.
As a new mother, you might not know the proper way to breastfeed. It is completely natural. A nurse or a lactation consultant can give you advice on proper breastfeeding techniques. You should align your baby’s chest straight and make sure the baby’s mouth has been attached properly for thorough drainage.
2.4 More Tips:
- Latching: If your baby does not have a good latch then it could cause problems. If they are not feeding properly and milk is being constantly left then it can cause clogging. Some babies have a tongue tie and other latching issues and this may result in nipple pain and blocked ducts.
- Clothing: There are a variety of maternity bras available. Try using those instead of tight and restrictive bras. You should try to go without them as much as possible such as while sleeping. You should avoid tight clothing especially if you become engorged.
- Cleanliness: You should always keep your hands clean and wash them before touching your breasts. Give extra care to make sure you clean your hands properly after a nappy change. This will help prevent any kind of bacteria and germs from transferring to your breast and creating any issues.
These are some key tips you should know when you start your breastfeeding journey. Following these will significantly reduce your chances of getting mastitis or any other infection. This will ensure that the baby and mother have a safe and healthy feeding journey.
3. Some Additional Tips on How to Prevent Mastitis
While the major and most important tips have been shared in the previous section there are still many left. You could never be careful enough to prevent a situation like mastitis. So it is important to take any and every measure possible to avoid this situation. Some tips you should keep in mind are given below:
- Use different breastfeeding positions: If your baby cannot finish in one position then try different ones. It will help in draining all the areas of your breast. You can try positions such as Cradle hold, Rugby hold, Lying on your side, and cross cradle hold.
- Lanolin-based cream can also be used.
- To prevent soreness of nipples, try air drying after breastfeeding.
- Avoid prolonged use of breast pads.
- Don’t stop feeding from the affected breast. Any blocked duct can be cleared only by milk flow.
- Have a healthy diet, eat healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, and include plenty of fluids during breastfeeding.
- Feed frequently and stop breastfeeding gradually. Gradual weaning helps the baby get used to the new eating patterns. And it also prevents your breasts from being full of milk.
- Switch which breast you offer first at each feeding.
4. Treating Mastitis
You can do everything to prevent mastitis but might still get it. You should treat a blocked milk duct as soon as possible so it doesn’t accelerate to mastitis. But if you feel like you are developing mastitis, you should seek medical help immediately. You might feel symptoms such as nipple pain, cracked or sore nipples, redness and pain, hard breast tissue, and flu-like symptoms.
Any regular blockage should clear up in 10-12 hours. But if symptoms persist you need medical care. You should contact a nurse, midwife, or lactation consultant who can provide you with ways to treat mastitis and relieve pain.
Mastitis doesn’t have any severe risks but it could lead to a collection of pus. And if treatment is not done or completed, it could come back. And if abscess forms then you might even have to consider surgical treatments.
Your doctor will confirm if it is due to a blocked milk duct or a bacterial breast infection. Then treatment will be done accordingly.
4.1 At-Home Treatment
Some at-home treatment for mastitis generally includes:
You should continue feeding your baby regularly. Especially with the affected breast. This might help clear the plugged ducts. Your breast milk is safe for your baby even when you have mastitis.
Gentle massages towards your nipple while your baby is feeding or while pumping can help.
4.1.3 Heat Pack:
Applying a warm cloth or heat pack on your breasts can get the breast milk flowing. Do this before breastfeeding.
4.1.4 Cold Pack:
After breastfeeding you should apply a cold pack on your breasts to reduce the inflammation and pain.
4.1.5 Eat Healthy:
Having a healthy diet and proper fluid intake can help you fight any infection better. Rest often to give yourself time to heal and recover.
4.2 Bacterial Infection Treatment
If it’s a bacterial infection, your doctor will help treat mastitis with:
If you have a bacterial infection then antibiotics are the way to go. It is generally a 10-day course. Make sure you complete the course and take every dosage. Not completing the course might lead to the infection coming back. So it’s better to not neglect it.
4.2.3 Pain relievers:
Mastitis causes soreness and pain. Your doctor will prescribe painkillers to provide relief.
You should not stop breastfeeding suddenly. It can lead to stagnant milk and cause more discomfort. Rapid weaning can result in breast abscesses. It is a condition in which pus collects in the breast due to an infection.
Mastitis usually happens during the first 12 weeks of your breastfeeding journey. You should know ways to prevent mastitis. Even with proper prevention, you might still get it. But it can be easily treated.
Nursing mothers should follow good breastfeeding techniques. Proper hygiene is essential for preventing mastitis. You can easily treat a blocked duct with at-home remedies.
But if you feel other symptoms such as body aches and fever you should not take it lightly. Consult a doctor immediately to be diagnosed. Recovery might not be comfortable and easy.
But you will get better fast and can return to normal feeding quickly. Do not shy away from asking for help from your family members during this journey.