The following article was written with the help of Carrie Kimball, RN, BSN, IBCLC, an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant at Burdett Birth Center.
We know that breastfeeding isn’t always easy, even though it’s a natural process. There can be complications, and it’s important to be aware of them so that you know what to do, just in case. A complication related to breastfeeding is mastitis.
Mastitis is an inflammation in the breast that can develop into a bacterial infection if not resolved quickly. It usually begins as a clog in one of your milk ducts where the milk is unable to flow freely out of the breast. There are a few mastitis symptoms. The area of the clog will often appear red and feel firm and tender to the touch. Over time, some women will also develop flu-like symptoms such as fatigue and body aches, and may notice that baby is fussy on the affected breast, or that they are unable to remove milk easily from that side. If you develop a fever, it is important that you contact your healthcare provider for more intervention.
Mastitis treatment and pain relief should include breast soaks in a bowl of hot water which should help the heat penetrate through to the plugged duct to resolve the plug. You’ll want to make sure the hot water isn’t toohot, so it does not burn your skin. Massage the breast while under water to help soften the firm breast tissue and encourage the clog to release, and follow the soak by nursing your baby or pumping while applying pressure to the area that is affected. Sometimes it is helpful to “dangle” the breast over the baby or while pumping so gravity helps to remove the plug. This should be done every few hours to encourage release of the clog, and if symptoms worsen or persist beyond 24 hours it’s imperative you contact your midwife or physician to be evaluated for possible bacterial infection requiring treatment.
Typically, bacterial infections from mastitis are treated by antibiotic. Even if you are taking antibiotics, it is still important to work on releasing the clog and establishing good milk flow through the breast so it can heal the infection. Antibiotics alone will not resolve a clog, but they will treat any bacterial infection that has taken hold. Also, note that it is safe to breastfeed while you have mastitis and are taking an antibiotic.
To help prevent mastitis, the Mayo Clinic suggests “getting your breastfeeding relationship off to the right start.” Meeting with a certified lactation consultant can help. At Burdett Birth Center, we give parents written information on discharge about mastitis whether they plan to breastfeed or not because it’s an even greater risk if you are formula feeding. The information includes signs and symptoms, comfort measures, and when to call the midwife or doctor for medical help.
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding and the basics of getting started, attend our monthly Breastfeeding Basics class. We also offer weekly drop-in breastfeeding support groups. Check the schedule for daytime and evening classes. You can also schedule a private appointment with one of our Board-Certified Lactation consultants by calling the lactation office at (518) 271-3368. You don’t have to face breastfeeding challenges alone.