What is mastitis?

Mastitis is breast inflammation that occurs in some women who are breastfeeding.
Mastitis is breast inflammation that occurs in some women who are breastfeeding.

Mastitis is defined as the inflammation of the breast that may be associated with an infection. Mastitis is commonly seen in breastfeeding women. Mastitis generally develops in the first 6 to 12 weeks of starting breastfeeding (lactation). The inflammation can cause fever and make the breasts so tender that you find it difficult to breastfeed the baby. Nonetheless, breastfeeding must not be stopped because emptying the breast during the feeding sessions relieves the pressure. This helps you recover faster from mastitis.

Certain conditions may be predisposing factors for mastitis. These include

  • Poor latching or attachment of the baby’s mouth to the breast
  • Injury to the nipple
  • Incomplete emptying of the breasts during feeding
  • Long breaks between breastfeeding sessions
  • Blocked milk ducts (the tiny channels that carry milk from the milk glands to the surface of the nipple)
  • Early cessation of breastfeeding
  • Wearing a tight bra
  • Congenital problems in the baby that may interfere with proper latching (such as tongue-tie)

What are the symptoms of mastitis?

The symptoms of mastitis include

  • Fever with or without chills
  • Breast pain
  • Redness over the skin of the breast
  • Warm skin over the breast
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling over the breast or lump formation in the breasts
  • Burning sensation in the breasts
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, body ache and chills

Can mastitis go away on its own?

Mastitis can sometimes subside on its own. If you experience any symptoms of mastitis you may follow these tips

  • Continue to breastfeed your baby.
  • Place a clean, warm cloth over the affected breast. This helps reduce pain.
  • Always express the excess breast milk from the affected breast after feeding.
  • Breastfeed from the affected side every two hours to prevent breast engorgement (the breast becoming swollen with milk).
  • Gently massage the breast over any breast lumps in a circular motion moving towards the nipples. Breast massage can be done anytime, especially before feeding, expressing breast milk or while taking a bath.
  • Apply warm compresses over the affected area before feeding or expressing breast milk to ease milk flow.
  • Wear a good, supportive and comfortable bra. Make sure the bra is not too tight.
  • Apply cool packs on the breast after feeding or expressing milk to reduce pain and swelling.
  • You may take over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, which are safe during lactation.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Get adequate rest.

If you do not feel better within 24 hours despite home management or if you have a high fever or feel really bad, you must seek medical help. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. You must take the antibiotics as directed by your doctor. This prevents antibiotic resistance (bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotic medications) and the development of side effects. Do not give up breastfeeding because your breast milk is best for your baby even when you have mastitis. Emptying the breasts by feeding your baby prevents further infection and inflammation. It also aids in quicker recovery.

To avoid further development of mastitis, make sure to feed your baby frequently as per your baby’s needs (about 8 to 12 times in 24 hours). You must make sure that your baby is fed from both breasts. If there is an overproduction of breast milk beyond your baby’s needs, you can express milk to make your breast more comfortable. Ask your doctor or a lactation expert for help to make sure that your baby is latching properly to your breasts. Wear breathable garments and avoid wearing tight-fitting bras.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/20/2021
References
Medscape Medical Reference

American Academy of Family Physicians


American Family Physician