When breastfeeding, some mums experience tenderness in their breasts, even before the beginning of lactation. That is because the ducts are already producing milk in anticipation of feeding the baby. When a woman starts lactating, pain and inflammation can appear in one or both breasts due to bacteria that have entered through cracked nipples, which is a normal process for many women. This is known as mastitis.
And as if that wasn’t enough – when you’re already struggling with breast pain and tenderness – you have to deal with an infection! Although it is common among breastfeeding moms (and something almost all of them will experience), mastitis can be quite uncomfortable. If left untreated, it can also lead to more severe complications, like
What is mastitis?
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue, which is caused by bacteria entering the breast through either a crack or direct contamination of the milk ducts. It is a very common condition among breastfeeding women and usually occurs within the first 6 weeks of breastfeeding when the milk ducts are not yet mature. Although rare, it can also affect women who don’t breastfeed. The condition may be acute (short-term, with symptoms appearing and disappearing within a few days) or chronic (long-term, with symptoms lasting for more than 2 weeks). If left untreated, mastitis can lead to various complications, such as a breast abscess, breast cellulitis, or even a blood infection.
Bacteria are normally present in the breast tissue, but most of the time, they are kept under control by the woman’s immune system. However, when breastfeeding, the ducts aren’t completely sealed, so bacteria can come into contact with the milk and cause infection. In most cases, the infection is caused by Staphylococcus Aureus, which can be easily treated with antibiotics.
Symptoms of mastitis: How to recognize the signs of mastitis.
- Breast pain – Breast pain is very common in cases of mastitis, and it can be very severe in the early stages when the infection is still in progress.
- Fever and/or flu-like symptoms – If a mother has a fever and/or flu-like symptoms, she may have a breast infection.
- Breast swelling – Swelling and inflammation are also very common in cases of mastitis. Breast swelling is a sign of an infection and indicates that the breasts are trying to fight off the bacteria.
- Breast Redness – This can also indicate a bacterial infection in the breast tissue, as well as a blocked milk duct.
- Breast discharge – Some women notice a clear discharge coming out of their nipples when they have mastitis in one or both breasts.
Tips to prevent mastitis
- Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding is the best way for a mother to reduce the risk of developing a breast infection. Breastfeeding is the main source of infection for many women. If the breast infection is caused by bacteria present in the breast milk, breastfeeding can help to clear it up. If a mother has a breast infection, antibiotics cannot be given to the baby, so breastfeeding is the only way to clear up the infection.
- Good hygiene – It is important to maintain good hygiene to reduce the risk of infection. Breastfeeding mothers should clean their breasts after every feed.
- Avoiding cracked nipples – Cracked nipples put the mother at an increased risk of developing a breast infection.
- Feeding on demand – Feeding on demand is important to maintain a good milk supply, which is essential for healthy growth in babies.
- Breast pump – Using a breast pump can help to express the infected milk from the breast tissue, which can be helpful in reducing the severity of the infection.
Mastitis happens when bacteria infect the breast tissue and the milk ducts, causing inflammation and an increase in breast temperature. If left untreated, mastitis can lead to complications like a breast abscess, breast cellulitis, or even a blood infection. Breastfeeding is beneficial to both baby and mother, so it’s important to treat mastitis as soon as possible. To prevent mastitis, breastfeeding mothers should maintain good hygiene, avoid cracked nipples, and feed their babies on demand.