Breastfeeding is a beautiful journey. However, it is normal to face some challenges along the way, which include mastitis. It’s one of those painful conditions a nursing mom can get into. But what are the symptoms of mastitis, and how does one deal with it?
I have been nursing for quite some time already when I experienced my boobs being tender and swollen. At first, I thought it was just one of those normal times when my boob has too much milk that once my baby breastfeeds, it will be gone. But I was wrong.
As time passes, I remember feeling in pain until I could not take the pain anymore. I immediately see a healthcare provider, and only then I was told it was mastitis. Apparently, when I felt my boobs being tender and swollen, it was just some of the symptoms of mastitis.
To be honest, it was an excruciating experience for me. I have always been so in love with breastfeeding since my childhood and I started it from the moment I gave birth. But that moment, with so much pain, I thought of stopping.
But with the grace of the One up there, and through the help of the experts who were sent to me, my mastitis was cured, and I went back breastfeeding my child – until this day.
For sure, some of you can relate to my experience, while some maybe have no idea at all what mastitis is all about. You know, after I experienced that, I had this goal to be a channel of information about mastitis. No, I am not an expert, but I would love to share whatever little information I have based on experience.
I think one of the best ways to help women, particularly nursing moms get rid of or prevent having mastitis is through proper information. With that said, let’s first define what mastitis is all about.
What is mastitis?
According to WebMD.com, mastitis is “an infection of the tissue of the breast that occurs most frequently during the time of breastfeeding. It can occur when bacteria, often from the baby’s mouth, enter a milk duct through a crack in the nipple.”
Meanwhile, Mayo Clinic defines mastitis as “an inflammation of breast tissue that sometimes involves an infection.” In some cases, the inflammation results in having breast pain (which was what I experienced), swelling, redness, as well as warmth. Fever and chills may also be experienced by people having mastitis.
While it is common among women, especially breastfeeding women to have mastitis, this health condition can also be experienced by non-breastfeeding women as well as men.
By the way, breastfeeding-related mastitis case is called lactation mastitis. Normally, when a nursing mom has lactation mastitis she may fell run down, which makes it hard to care for your little one. In addition, sometimes mastitis can lead to early weaning because of the pain and the struggle a mom experiences. However, experts recommend continuing breastfeeding even while taking antibiotics to treat mastitis because, in fact, breastfeeding helps you to recover faster. Needless to say, it’s best for your baby to continue breastfeeding.
Mastitis commonly occurs from one to three months after giving birth. But as mentioned earlier, it can also happen to non-lactating moms and even those women who have just had menopause. When mastitis is not immediately treated, it can cause chronic mastitis, or worse, it could lead to a certain form of cancer called inflammatory carcinoma.
According to experts, mastitis is very rare among healthy women. In fact, the ones who are at higher risk of developing such conditions are those who have a chronic illness, diabetes, AIDS, or those with a compromised immune system.
Based on statistics, only about 1% to 3% of lactating moms develop mastitis. Normally, one of the culprits of mastitis is engorgement and incomplete breast emptying. These can even make the symptoms of mastitis worse.
Meanwhile, chronic mastitis happens to women who are not breastfeeding. For instance, in post-menopausal women, mastitis is associated with chronic inflammation of the ducts below the nipple. Also, experts say that hormonal changes may cause the milk ducts to be congested with dead skin cells and debris. Unfortunately, the infection has the tendency to reoccur even after antibiotic treatments.
With that said, I think it’s really important that we, women must be well-aware of our body. This way, we get to prevent or immediately address whatever problems there may be – in this case, mastitis.
What causes mastitis?
Before we move on to the symptoms of mastitis, it is also important, in the first place, that we know what causes it.
Among breastfeeding women, there are two main reasons why mastitis happens. These are:
– Clogged Milk Duct
When breastfeeding, it is very important to empty the breasts every time because when the milk is nor removed as efficiently and as frequently as possible, what happens is, the channel where the milk flows becomes overwhelmed with milk build-up that it cause it to be unable to flow out of the breast. Thus, it results in your breast feeling like tender lumps.
Experts say that it is very important that the breast is empty of milk. Otherwise, if it is not cleared within a few hours, it may start to develop symptoms of mastitis like increased body temperature (like above 100 degrees), child, red blotched, as well as general achy feeling.
Another common cause of mastitis is an infection. According to experts, mastitis may also occur when bacteria creeps into the woman’s milk duct. In fact, a crack on the nipple because of your baby’s poor or improper latch may let the bacteria get inside the breast and then cause infection. When this happens, it may lead to an inflammatory response.
Some of the common bacteria perpetrators are Staphylococcus Albus, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli. These invaders cause the breast to get red and painful because of inflammation.
Who are at risk to develop mastitis?
According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), up to one third (or less than 10%) of women may go through mastitis, and with symptoms normally showing up in the first three months of breastfeeding.
Some women, however, are more susceptible than others because of certain factors like:
– Age – Studies show that women aged 21 to 35 years old are more prone to developing mastitis. Women who are between 30 and 34 are said to have a higher risk.
– History – According to studies, 40 to 45 percent of women who already had mastitis before are more prone to having another mastitis attack. Experts think this may have something to do with improper nursing.
– Work – Studies say that women who work outside the home are more prone to develop mastitis compared to stay at home moms. They relate it to the longer intervals in between pumping. Also, they the inability to void the breast completely of milk.
– Trauma – Based on experts, women who had an injury that caused the breast tissue that has probably negatively affect the glands and duct performance may increase the risk of developing mastitis.
Furthermore, Mayo Clinic says you are more at risk in developing mastitis if you:
- Have the previous bout of mastitis while breast-feeding
- Have sore or cracked nipples — although mastitis can develop without broken skin
- Are wearing a tightfitting bra or putting pressure on your breast when using a seat belt or carrying a heavy bag, which may restrict milk flow
- Do improper nursing technique
- Are overly tired or stressed
- Have Poor nutrition
- Are Smoking
What are the symptoms of mastitis?
Any women (and even men), breastfeeding or not must be well-aware of the symptoms of mastitis to be able to immediately address the problem and not lead to any other complications or furtherance of the condition.
Personally, I thought, if only I was aware of the symptoms of mastitis, perhaps the moment I felt my boobs were tender and swollen, I should have immediately seen a doctor. But because of a lack of information, I only went to my doctor when I was already in unbearable pain.
Avoid going through the same ordeal that I went through. Here are some of the most common symptoms of mastitis that you should watch out for according to TheBump.com:
- Tender and swollen breasts
- The existence of one or more lumps in the breast
- Breasts that are warm or hot to the touch
- Breast pain or burning either during or while not breastfeeding
- Red skin, sometimes in a wedge-shaped pattern
- Flu-like symptoms, such as chills or fatigue
- Fever of 101℉ (38.3℃) or greater
In addition, there are other symptoms of mastitis according to WebMD.com:
- Abscess: A breast abscess can be a complication of mastitis. Noncancerous masses such as abscesses are more often tender and frequently feel mobile beneath the skin. The edge of the mass is usually regular and well defined. Indications that this more serious infection has occurred include the following:
- A tender lump in the breast that does not get smaller after breastfeeding a newborn (If the abscess is deep in the breast, you may not be able to feel it.)
- Pus draining from the nipple
- Persistent fever and no improvement of symptoms within 48-72 hours of treatment
How to treat mastitis?
Now that you already know what mastitis is all about, as well as the different symptoms of mastitis to watch out for, now, we go to how this condition is treated.
As I shared earlier, mastitis can be very painful if not treated immediately. Needless to say, it may sacrifice your breastfeeding journey especially if the mom becomes traumatized because of the pain caused by mastitis.
To avoid that from happening, here are some ways to treat or cure mastitis:
– Treating with Professional Help
When treating mastitis, first and foremost, you have to make sure you seek help from the right people. Ideally, you get in touch or ask help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant as they are well-educated when it comes to breastfeeding strategies to help ease pain and swelling.
However, it’s a different case when you are already experiencing flu-like symptoms or you feel persistent pain in your breast for longer than 24 hours. If that happens, immediately call your doctor. Your doctor may recommend treating it short-term with an over-the-counter analgesic like Ibuprofen.
Meanwhile, in some cases, particularly more severe ones, an antibiotic may be prescribed. The most commonly chosen type of antibiotics is Cephalexin and dicloxacillin. Please note that the antibiotic prescribed will depend on certain factors like your situation, your doctor’s preference, as well as your health condition if you have allergies, etc. Don’t worry about breastfeeding as your doctor will most likely give you medication that is safe for nursing moms.
When taking medication, symptoms of mastitis must improve within three days. However, when taking antibiotics, you must continue taking the medication for the entire recommended course to ensure complete healing.
Now, with non-breastfeeding women, treatment can be quite complicated. Usually, when there is chronic mastitis, recurrent episodes is very common, and this type of infection normally responds poorly with antibiotics. Thus, close monitory or constant follow-up with your attending physician is highly recommended.
When the infection worsens despite taking oral antibiotics, your doctor may recommend you to get admitted for the administration of IV antibiotics.
– Home Remedies
Meanwhile, to help soothe the pain, you may try the following home remedies for mastitis as recommended by moms and even health professionals:
– Breastfeeding – Believe it or not, as painful as it may be, nursing your child through the pain is one key to healing mastitis. Baby’s suckling can help take away any clogged milk, at the same time, the suckling also helps drain the breast of residual milk. For proper breastfeeding positions and proper latching, you may consult a lactation consultant.
– Moist Heat – Before breastfeeding your baby, it is advised to use a warm wet compressor you may soak in a warm bath or shower to help improve the circulation in your breast area.
– Eat Garlic – Apparently, garlic has high natural anti-inflammatory properties, which is great to help ease out symptoms of mastitis. However, take note that the general rule of thumb is to limit garlic intake to just about four cloves a day. If you want more, you better consult your doctor first.
How to prevent mastitis?
While treatments for the symptoms of mastitis and mastitis itself are available, nothing beats preventing it from happening. In order to do prevent mastitis, here are some tips from experts:
– Take a Rest. Like any other illness, the more rundown your body is, the harder it is to fight off or to heal. So, give your body the rest it deserves. Stay away or at least reduce stress and anxiety. Get as much sleep as possible. You know what they say, when the baby sleeps, you sleep too! Take any possible opportunity to rest.
– Stay Hydrated. Drink up! Make sure to drink eight glasses or more daily. Staying hydrated helps improve your body’s overall circulation, including your milk flow.
– Continue Nursing. When the baby wants to nurse, let him, nurse. If he sleeps too much, then make sure to pump in between. This will help keep your breast empty, and also helps prevent blockage or infection.
– Wear Light Clothing. Avoid wearing tight clothes, as well as ill-fitting bras. Wearing such can create pressure on your breasts, which can lead to mastitis.
– Eat a Healthy Diet. Make sure to eat a healthy diet. This helps boost your immunes system. Particularly, include fresh whole foods that are rich in vitamin A (such as sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, kale), vitamin C (like citrus fruits, bell peppers), vitamin E (such as almonds, spinach, avocado), vitamin B-6 (like chicken, turkey, sunflower seeds), and probiotics (Greek yogurt).
– Always Wash Your Hands. Stay clean. Make sure to always wash your hands with soap before and after breastfeeding. This helps eliminate any possible source of bacteria.
In addition, according to Mayo Clinic, it may also help prevent mastitis if you:
- Fully drain the milk from your breasts while breastfeeding.
- Allow your baby to completely empty one breast before switching to the other breast during feeding.
- Change the position you use to breast-feed from one feeding to the next.
- Make sure your baby latches on properly during feedings.
- If you smoke, ask your doctor about smoking cessation.
When a woman has mastitis, time is vital. The earlier it is seen or diagnosed, the better. That is why it is very important that women who are either breastfeeding or not breastfeeding to be well-aware of the symptoms of mastitis to avoid further problems. Needless to say, to prevent a very challenging season of breastfeeding. After all, when you suffer from mastitis, the more likely your child to suffer as well — especially if the pain is too much for you to bear.
As with my experience, I must say, it could have been prevented from causing me pain if only I immediately attended to it the very first time I felt something unusual on my breast.