Mastitis is the inflammation of breast tissue. It is a common condition experienced by 3-20% of women during the breastfeeding period.
Mastitis is caused by one or several plugged or blocked milk ducts (natural channels through which breast milk flows). Although this condition may be further complicated by a bacterial infection, it is not always the case.
Persons most at risk
The following factors can promote mastitis but are not integral to the development of the condition:
- damaged nipples
- incomplete emptying of the breast (ex: limited, skipped, insufficient feedings, poor latch)
- illness in the mother or baby
- overproduction of milk
- abrupt weaning
- pressure on the breast (ex: tight bra)
- blocked milk duct in the nipple
- fatigue and stress in the mother
- malnutrition in the mother
The most common signs and symptoms of mastitis are:
- soft, warm, swollen, localized lump in the breast
- intense fatigue
- feeling of being unwell
Generally speaking, your physician can diagnose mastitis based on a physical exam and the symptoms you are experiencing. The physician may order a sample of the breast milk for culture if the mastitis does not clear up after a course of antibiotic therapy.
The most important step in treating mastitis is to empty the breasts frequently and completely. The mother should be encouraged to nurse more often or to express milk either manually or with a pump. The baby's nursing position and latch should be assessed by a qualified lactation consultant. Massaging the affected area while expressing may promote better drainage. Nursing from a breast that has mastitis poses no risk whatsoever to the child. Applying heat (ex: shower, compresses) before expressing milk may also help increase the release of milk. Afterwards, applying a cold compress may help reduce any pain and inflammation.
Other support measures are essential to the healing process. These include: rest, hydration and proper nutrition. Analgesics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Advil®) are often recommended to help relieve pain and fever. If there is an infection, an antibiotic will be prescribed. Sores on the nipples can be treated with cream. There are drug therapies that are compatible with breastfeeding.
To prevent mastitis and related complications from developing, it is recommended that you nurse on demand, that the baby have a proper latch, that you not wait too long between feedings, that you avoid abrupt weaning, that you eat and hydrate properly, and get plenty of rest. If mastitis symptoms appear, it is recommended that you consult your health care professional as soon as possible.