Mastitis simply means “Inflammation of the Breast.” Usually this inflammation is a result of a plugged milk duct, or of a bacterial infection within the breast tissue.
There are various causes of mastitis. The first common cause is an ineffective latch-on or sucking technique in the baby. Such things can result in inadequate milk transfer and the back up of milk can cause the mastitis. Also, if a problem with latch is causing nipple pain in the mother, she might be reluctant to feed as frequently as she may have otherwise. This would cause the breast to not be drained well contributing to the build up of milk. Sometimes a ineffective latch can be due to engorgement in the mother rather than lack of ability on the infants part.
Breastfeeding mothers often experience Mastitis when the baby’s feeding pattern changes or becomes very irregular.
Things that may cause this to occur include:
*The baby begins sleeping for longer stretches.
*Ear infections or teething discomfort in the baby.
*Using pacifiers which reduce the time at the breast
*The baby is being supplemented with water or formula
*Imposing a feeding schedule and limiting time at the breast.
*Simply keeping too busy or returning to work
Another common cause of mastitis is pressure on the breast. Pressure that comes from ill-fitting bras, very tight clothing, sleeping on the stomach, and ill-fitting manual breast pumps can impede the flow of milk through the ducts. Which causes a unnecessary build up of milk. Other causes include being run-down from stress, poor nutrition and cracked nipples allowing infection into the breast.
Signs and Symptoms of Mastitis
Usually mastitis will occur in one breast only., but can occur in both breasts at the same time. Although mastitis can occur in any part of the breast, it usually occurs in the upper outer part of the breast because this part of the breast contains the most tissue. The symptoms are different depending on the root cause of the mastitis.
If a blocked duct is to blame the mother can experience:
- Gradual onset of symptoms
- Tender lump or spot in the breast that may move from one spot to another.
- Pain is very mild and mother feels generally well.
- Low fever or no fever at all
- No unusual warmness in the breast
If an infection is to blame the mother can experience:
- Sudden onset of symptoms
- Tender lump or spot in the breast that is localized and does not move
- Obvious signs of infected cracked nipple (redness, pus, etc.)
- The breast maybe be swollen, hot and red.
- Blood and pus may be in the milk
- Apparent on the skin are red streaks flaring out from the site of infection
- The mother has flu-like symptoms and feels unwell.
- Fever is higher
Seeking immediate treatment is very important because if mastitis left untreated can lead to a life threatening breast abscess. It is a misconception that a mother with mastitis should stop feeding. This is actually the opposite of the truth. Women are encouraged to breastfeed as much as possible and at least every 2 hours. The affected breast’s milk supply is completely safe for baby and baby’s suck can actually help dislodge any blockage. The mother can help get the milk flowing through a blockage by changing the position in which she feeds the baby. Usually it is suggested that the mother utilize a position in which the baby’s chin points in the direction of the affected area . The suggestion is due to the belief that this will cause a stronger suction in the specific location and help release the blockage. One can also find relief by briefly applying gentle heat like that of a warm damp cloth, a warm shower, or immersing the breast in warm water just before feeding to stimulate milk flow. While applying the heat therapy, it may be helpful to massage the breast in firm circular motions near the affected area and alternate the heat with cold packs to further soothe the area. The mother is often advised to act as though one would in treating the flu; plenty of rest, liquids and eating well. Due to the fact that fatigue is a huge contributor to mastitis a mother can also take this time to spend a day on bed rest with baby to maximize baby’s opportunity to feed and help her rest. Over the counter pain relieving anti-inflammatory medications can also be used. However if a bacterial infection is present or the mastitis is severe, the mother’s doctor may prescribe antibiotic medication.
To prevent mastitis from occurring or prevent a re-occurrence, a mother should feed the baby without restriction with a good latch, avoid pressure on the breasts from her clothing, bags or sleeping position and take good care of herself with adequate rest and proper nutrition.
Additionally, if the mastitis is reoccurring or does not resolve after a few days the woman may want to consult with her physician to investigate other possible conditions and treatments.