What is mastitis?

  • Mastitis is a bacterial infection of the breast.
  • If you have mastitis, you’ll have general flu-like symptoms: fever and a feeling of tiredness.
  • Your breast with mastitis will have a hot, tender, and usually red area. When you touch this area, it’ll hurt a lot.
  • You’ll be able to feel a lump or several little ones inside the tender area of your breast.

 What causes mastitis and how can you prevent it?

  • Mastitis occurs when milk stays stagnant in the breast.
  • This usually happens when you have a plugged milk duct. The milk in the reservoir connected in this duct stays in the breast. Bacteria enter through the nipple and cause an infection.
  • You can tell you have a plugged duct if:
    • You see a white spot on your nipple. The white spot is where one of the openings of the nipple is.
    • When you finish nursing, pumping, or expressing, you notice that a part of your breast still feels full.
  • You are more likely to get plugged ducts and mastitis if your breasts are engorged. Frequent and thorough emptying of the breast (best done by your baby) will help prevent mastitis.
    • Feed on demand: whenever your baby want to, let her or him nurse, for as long as she or he wants to.
    • Breastfeed your baby when your breasts become full or you start leaking milk. If your baby isn’t interested, express a little milk.
    • Follow the instructions on preventing engorgement found in the page on engorgement.
  • If you detect a plugged duct, determine which part of the breast is affected.
    • Apply warm washcloths to this area of your breast.
    • Massage gently towards the areola while you’re nursing or pumping.
    • Take a warm shower or bath.
    • Let your baby nurse with her or his lower jaw facing the affected area of the breast. This may mean nursing with the baby’s legs towards your head (do this lying down!). This may look funny or even ridiculous, but do it. It works.
  • Tight clothing can cause mastitis by blocking your milk ducts.
    • Remember that you have milk ducts going around your ribcage under your arms. Anything that puts pressure in this area can lead to mastitis.
    • Avoid wearing bras with tight straps.
    • Be careful with backpacks. It’s best to avoid ones that do not have waist straps.
    • Be careful with baby carriers. Those that have crisscrossing straps that go under your arms can block your milk ducts and cause mastitis.
  • Try to avoid strenuous movement of the arms. Regularly reaching high can be risky. So can sports activities that involve heavy and fast use of the arms.

How to treat mastitis?

  • Call your doctor.
    • She or he will probably give you antibiotics.
    • You’ll feel better in a couple of days when you take your antibiotics.
    • You should still go through the full course.
    • This is very important! If you stop taking your antibiotics once you feel better, you’ll be helping the bacteria develop resistance to the drug. If this happens, the next time you are sick, the drug may not work as well.
  • Continue breastfeeding. Your milk is harmless. Emptying the breasts regularly is essential in preventing and treating mastitis.
  • If your baby doesn’t empty your breasts, pump or express enough milk to make your breasts feel nice and soft.
  • Don’t leave mastitis untreated. If you do, you might develop a breast abscess, a serious infection that usually requires surgery.
  • Don’t be tempted to bottle-feed so you can avoid mastitis. Bottle-feeding mothers have the most serious cases of mastitis and breast abscess, as their breasts start producing milk a few days after the baby’s birth, but are never emptied. Your best bet to avoid mastitis is to nurse often.


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