Surviving Mastitis: What is it, How to Avoid it, How to Treat it

Surviving Mastitis

A common fear of prospective parents is mastitis. If you have ever had a friend get it, you know. Mastitis is an infection of the breast, caused by an inflammation of the breast. This can occur due clogged milk ducts or bacteria entering into the breast through cracked or damaged nipples. If you are planning to breastfeed and hope to avoid mastitis, there are a few simple things you must know.

  1. Nurse often. When you skip feedings or baby doesn’t empty the breast, it can cause a build-up of milk in the milk ducts. This blockage can lead to a clogged milk duct, which feels like a lump in the breast. This clogged duct can lead to mastitis.
  2. Work for a great latch and break any bad latches. When your baby isn’t latched properly, they can damage your nipples. If your nipples crack, there is an opportunity for bacteria to enter into the breast through your nipple, infecting your breast and causing mastitis. If there is pain, it is not a good latch. Unlatch your baby by sticking a clean finger into your baby’s mouth and breaking their suction and then try again. Don’t be discouraged if this takes several tries to get it right. You and baby are both still learning!
  3. Massage any lumps in the breast. If you have found a clogged duct, massage the breast while you nurse the baby or pump. This can help break up the blockage and allow your milk to flow.
  4. Keep the nipples clean and dry. If you develop cracked nipples, clean them and air dry them after each feeding to prevent bacteria from entering into them. Healthy nipples don’t need creams, butters, or oils, but they can be helpful in comforting painful, damaged nipples. Coconut oil works just as well as many of the brand name creams that your baby may not like the taste of.
  5. Alternate breastfeeding positions. By changing positions, you are emptying different areas of the breast. The direction your baby’s chin is pointing is where they get the majority of the milk they are drinking.

Potential warning signs of mastitis are flu-like symptoms, fever, feeling achy, and swollen or tender breasts that may be red or feel hot. If caught early enough, it can be treated with lots of fluids and rest, warm compresses to the breast, and nursing often from the affected side. If the symptoms do not quickly go away, it is important to reach out to your care provider, as antibiotics may be necessary to prevent an abscess from forming in the breast.