Every breastfeeding mother comes across an issue or two while breastfeeding. Whether it be cracked and sore nipples or not nursing enough on one side, if you breastfeed you’re bound to have a few uncomfortable moments at one point or another. One of the worst conditions that can occur during breastfeeding is mastitis. According to the Mayo Clinic, mastitis is an infection that is caused by bacteria getting into the breast (The Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com/health/mastitis/DS00678). This usually occurs when you have cracked nipples or the bacteria enters through open milk ducts. The bacteria can be on anything from your hands to your breast pump to your baby’s mouth. Mastitis can be a serious condition if not caught soon enough to receive the appropriate treatment, but luckily there are some very obvious symptoms to look for if you think you have an infection.
One of the biggest signs I noticed when I had this condition was that it felt like I had the flu. I had a fever, felt like I was freezing even though I had 2 layers of clothing and a heavy blanket on, and I felt completely run down and too tired to even move. While this is a sign of mastitis it can also be a sign of just the flu, so there are other things that you need to look for on top of this. They include:
-Tenderness in the breast: It may be very sore to even touch your breasts. The soreness will probably be in one particular spot of the breast.
-Very hot skin: It’s an unpleasant thought but it’s true. If your breast is hot to the touch then this is a very strong sign of infection.
-Pain while nursing: You may have a lot of pain and discomfort when nursing your baby.
Causes and Risks-
There are many things that can cause mastitis to occur. Looking for these things can greatly reduce your chance of getting it or let you know if you are at risk of getting it. Causes and risks of mastitis include:
-You’ve already had it: If you’ve already had it in the past from breastfeeding another baby or even the same baby, then chances are you’re at a greater risk that you will probably get it again.
-Sore or cracked nipples: If you have sore or cracked nipples this is a sure fire way for bacteria to get into your breasts while you’re breastfeeding, which can then result in an infection. Correctly latching your baby on, rubbing breast milk on sore nipples and allowing your breasts to “breathe” every now and then can greatly reduce the risk of getting sore or cracked nipples. If it does happen you can get creams over the counter or prescribed to you that will help them heal comfortably and quickly.
-Not completely draining (or milk stasis): When you nurse your baby you usually start on one side, allow the baby to nurse for a little bit, then either switch sides during the same feeding or nurse on the opposite side at the next feeding. Sometimes when your baby nurses they may become full or may even fall asleep before your breast is completely emptied of milk. When you don’t allow your breast to completely drain and you have milk still sitting in there you will not only end up pretty sore, but you’ve also got the perfect breeding ground for infection to occur.
While mastitis is a pretty common thing it should still not be taken lightly. As soon as you suspect you may have it you need to call your doctor. There are some complications that can arise if it is not treated right away or at all, so call your doctor with your concerns the minute you have them. Even if it turns out you don’t have it, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you wait to call you may find yourself with even bigger medical issues that include:
-Recurrence: A recurrence of this happening again, which will more than likely result in you weaning your baby unnecessarily.
-Milk Stasis: As I mentioned before, not draining your milk completely can cause this infection or it can be caused by the infection. Either way it’s a very unpleasant double edged sword.
-Abscesses: If not treated appropriately an abscess (pus) can form in the infected area of the breast, resulting in a need for draining by your doctor.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
Once you’ve concluded that you exhibit all the symptoms of mastitis and have called your doctor he or she may want to see you in their office to confirm the diagnosis or they may just call in a prescription for you over the phone without needing to see you in person. If you are called into their office your doctor will just need to examine you to make the determination. Once you’ve been diagnosed you will be given an antibiotic to help you fight the infection and you may also be given some kind of pain reliever if it’s too painful to deal with or to nurse. You’ll also be told to get lots of rest, nurse your baby as much as possible and drink lots of fluids. Your doctor will probably go over all of the things to prevent a recurrence in the future, such as those that I mentioned above (ie. Repositioning baby when feeding, draining each side completely, treating cracked nipples promptly). As long as you follow his or her directions you should be able to rid yourself of the infection and you’ll be aware of what to look for in the future should the infection return.