Proactive Measures: A Guide to Preventing Mastitis in Nursing Mothers

Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast1 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 mastitis2.

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 milk is improperly drained, it can lead to a backup. This can be because the baby has less feeding time. 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, you have a higher chance of getting one again.

6. Poor physical health of the baby or the mother 

2. How to Prevent Mastitis?

A few simple techniques can easily prevent mastitis. The simplest thing a mother can do to prevent it is to use 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. You can pump out the milk and store it for later use.

2.3 Technique:

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 ensure the baby’s mouth has been properly attached for thorough drainage.

2.4 More Tips:

  • Latching: If your baby does not have a good latch, it could cause problems. If they are not feeding properly and milk is constantly left, it can cause clogging. Some babies have a tongue tie and other latching issues, which may result in nipple pain and blocked ducts.
  • Clothing: There are a variety of maternity bras3 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: Always keep your hands clean and wash them before touching your breasts. Take extra care to clean your hands properly after a nappy change. This will help prevent bacteria and germs from transferring to your breast and creating issues. 

These are key tips you should know when you start your breastfeeding4 journey. Following these will significantly reduce your chances of getting mastitis or infection. This will ensure the baby and mother have a safe and healthy feeding journey. 

Mastitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and How to Prevent It!

3. Some Additional Tips on How to Prevent Mastitis

While the major and most important tips have been shared in the previous section, many remain. You could never be careful enough to prevent a situation like mastitis. So it is important to take 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, try different ones. This will help drain 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 you 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. If an abscess forms, then you might even have to consider surgical treatments.

Your doctor will confirm whether it is due to a blocked milk duct or a bacterial breast infection. Then, treatment will be started accordingly. 

4.1 At-Home Treatment

Some at-home treatments for mastitis generally include:

4.1.1 Breastfeeding:

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.

4.1.2 Massage:

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 to your breasts before breastfeeding can help stimulate milk flow.

4.1.4 Cold Pack:

After breastfeeding, you should apply a cold pack to reduce inflammation and pain.

4.1.5 Eat Healthy:

A healthy diet and proper fluid intake can help you fight infection. 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:

4.2.1 Antibiotics:

If you have a bacterial infection, 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 not to 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.

5. Conclusion

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 hesitate to ask for help from your family members during this journey.

  1. Mantovani, Alberto, et al. “Inflammation and cancer: breast cancer as a prototype.” The Breast 16 (2007): 27-33. ↩︎
  2. Neave, F. K., et al. “Control of mastitis in the dairy herd by hygiene and management.” Journal of dairy science 52.5 (1969): 696-707. ↩︎
  3. Jang, Mi-Na, and Dong-Eun Kim. “A study of preferences and satisfaction levels in maternity and nursing brassieres.” The Research Journal of the Costume Culture 25.4 (2017): 419-432. ↩︎
  4. Massage, Baby, et al. “6 Ways to Help Support your Breastfeeding Journey.” ↩︎

Last Updated on by Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology

Authors

Alka
Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology

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