Mastitis can strike when you least expect it. One moment, you think you’ve got a full handle on breastfeeding, the next you’re experiencing a cycle of headaches, chills, fever, and breast aches. It can be a scary thing, especially for women unaware of what mastitis is and what to do when it suddenly comes on.
It is more common than most might think though. In fact, 1 in 5 Australian women will develop mastitis in the first six months following pregnancy, marking a significant population of new mothers.
In this guide, we’re going to introduce you to everything you need to know about how to help prevent mastitis. Read on to learn more about what mastitis is, and our top three tips for ways you can help to prevent it or lessen symptoms.
What Is Mastitis?
Before we dive into the advice, let’s make sure we know what exactly mastitis is, and how it impacts the body.
Mastitis is an inflammatory condition that occurs in the breast tissue. In most cases, it happens as a result of a bacterial infection or blockage in the milk ducts, also referred to as the mammary glands.
While mastitis can happen to both men and women, it happens most often in women who are breastfeeding. In these cases, it is often a clogged or blocked duct as a result of breastfeeding that can lead to a bacterial infection. However, any kind of clogged duct on the breast/nipple does have the potential to turn into mastitis.
Mastitis can be painful to deal with, which can lead to breastfeeding compilations that impact the mother and baby. Plus, if left untreated, mastitis can evolve into more serious conditions such as sepsis. It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have a blocked milk duct issue as a result of mastitis.
If a person is dealing with mastitis, they may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Swelling and warmth in the breast
- Redness and shiny skin over the affected area
- Breast pain or tenderness in the breast
- Pain when breastfeeding
- A firm lump or area in the breast
- Nipple discharge, which may be white or contain blood
- Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, and body aches
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit
Mastitis is most often caused by bacteria that enter the breast tissue through a cracked or sore nipple, multiplying and causing infection. Other factors that may contribute to mastitis include:
- Poor milk drainage
- Tight clothing or a poorly fitting bra that puts pressure on the breast tissue
- Trauma to the breast
- Stress or fatigue.
The specific treatment for mastitis will vary depending on the severity of the case.
In mild cases, mastitis can be managed with simple home strategies and by continuing a regular feeding schedule. Most cases will not require antibiotics, particularly if flu-like symptoms are not present.
In all cases, combinations of heat and cold therapies can be great for reducing symptoms and clearing the blockage of the milk ducts. Gentle heat, applied via a warm compress or a hot bath to the breasts can help to relieve pain and promote circulation. You can also use a cold compress and ice treatments, particularly after a feed, to reduce swelling.
A large part of management is to maintain the flow of milk from the breast. Regularly scheduled pumping, combined with rest and upping your fluid intake can help with this.
Finally, in cases where flu-like symptoms are present or if an abscess is suspected, a review with your general practitioner may be warranted. In cases like these, antibiotics may be required or a breast abscess may need to be drained.
If you suspect you have mastitis, it is important to reach out to a healthcare provider, including your women’s health physiotherapist, lactation consultant, Obstetrician or General Practitioner. They can assist you in getting a diagnosis and starting treatment. When left untreated, mastitis can lead to some serious complications, such as sepsis, making it an issue you should prioritise.
Our Top Tips To Help With Mastitis
Looking for help when dealing with mastitis? Here are our top three tips:
If you ask older female relatives for advice about mastitis, there’s a chance they’ll have an old-school remedy passed down from previous generations. There is all kinds of advice out there, from hot showers to cold cabbage leaf compresses.
While some advice may vary, most of these home remedies can actually help treat and prevent the development of mastitis! As mentioned before, hot and cold treatments on the affected breast to help can be effective in the management of symptoms and encouraging milk flow.
Other strategies that you could use at home would be:
- Gentle massaging over towards the nipple during feedings
- Changing up your breastfeeding position
- Take pain relief as you need, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol
- Avoiding tight-fitting bras or clothing
- Rest as you need, to help the body recover and heal.
Continue Feeding Regularly
Another great tip for preventing the development of mastitis in the first place is to ensure you’re feeding regularly, allowing the milk supply to flow.
A lactation consultant can do wonders here if you are encountering breastfeeding issues, such as a problem with supply or the latch of your baby onto your breast. You can also check out the Australian Breastfeeding Association for further advice on maintaining milk flow.
It’s important to note that breastfeeding is still safe and beneficial to both mother and baby, even with the presence of mastitis. This is also the case if the mother is taking antibiotics at the time.
Ultrasound & Physio Assessment
We recommend reaching out to a physiotherapist if you think you might be dealing with mastitis and to receive a full physio assessment. This assessment will help to accurately diagnose mastitis and get you on a quick road to recovery with therapeutic ultrasound and massage, and education on home-based management strategies with great outcomes.
Get Help At Sydney Pelvic Clinic
Do you need help dealing with mastitis-related issues? If so, our team here at Sydney Pelvic Clinic are trained in managing these conditions and are here to help! In most cases of blocked ducts, symptoms are completely resolved in fewer than four short sessions.