As a new mom, you may not know much about mastitis. But this inflammation in the breast tissue is common in moms during the first few months of breastfeeding. Usually the result of an infection, mastitis can cause painful, swollen areas in the breasts.
Fortunately, mastitis is treatable. With support from your OB GYN, mastitis doesn't have to get in the way of your desire to continue to breastfeed.
Plugged milk ducts and mastitis
Plugged milk ducts affect many breastfeeding moms. Often, these appear as a sore lump in the breast and resolve on their own with continued breastfeeding. However, plugged ducts can turn into mastitis if they don't clear. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a plugged duct and an actual infection.
If you think you have a plugged duct, you can try at-home care. WIC Breastfeeding Support suggests these tips:
- Breastfeed often, starting on the breast with the plugged duct
- Try different feeding positions
- Use warm, wet cloths over the plugged duct or take a warm shower
- Massage the breast starting at the plugged duct downward toward the nipple, especially while breastfeeding
- Make sure your bra is supportive but not too tight
When to call your OB GYN
If a plugged duct doesn't drain on it's own or you have other symptoms, you may need treatment from a medical professional. You can also get mastitis from other causes besides a plugged duct, such as bacteria entering the breast through a cracked nipple. If you have a painful area in your breast that doesn't resolve after 24 hours, make a call to your OB GYN.
In addition to a painful area of the breast, signs of mastitis can include:
- Redness and swelling
- Warm to the touch
- Yellow discharge
- Body aches
Some warning signs that warrant immediate attention include:
- Inflammation or infection in both breasts
- Sudden or sever symptoms
- Red streaks on your breast
- Breastmilk that contains pus or blood
If you have mastitis, your OB GYN can prescribe antibiotics to help clear the infection. He or she may also recommend you continue the at-home care techniques, such as breast massage or warm compresses. It's also important to get plenty of rest. According to the Office on Women's Health, sometimes a breast infection can be a sign that you're run down.
Some moms worry that mastitis will affect their ability to breastfeed. However, this isn't the case. In fact, one of the best things you can do is to continue to breastfeed or pump milk from the affected breast. The La Leche League says breastmilk's antibacterial properties help protect your baby from infection, and frequently emptying the breast will reduce inflammation and clear any blockages.
Reducing the risk of mastitis in the future
After you've had mastitis, you can take steps to help reduce your chance of getting it again. Be sure the take all of your medication as prescribed by your OB GYN, even if you start to feel better before your medication is finished.
The American Academy of Family Medicine suggest focusing on getting a good latch, changing up your breastfeeding positions, and always emptying one breast before offering the other. You should also avoid tight bras that could trap moisture around the nipples or constrict your milk ducts.
If you think your mastitis may be a result of a breastfeeding challenge, reach out to a local support group or lactation consultant. These resources can help you with positioning and latch so you can make sure your baby is effectively emptying your breasts when feeding. In the end, this can help reduce your risk of plugged ducts and mastitis in the future.