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Let’s be honest—breastfeeding hurts sometimes. And although a little pain and discomfort are to be expected at first, severe pain, swelling and redness shouldn’t be. Those symptoms are often a sure sign of mastitis.
If you’re dealing with the pain, we know you're probably thinking these three things: What is mastitis? Is this mastitis? How do I get rid of it fast?!
Mastitis is “an inflammation of breast tissue that sometimes involves an infection.” Most of the time, mastitis affects moms who are actively breastfeeding, known as lactation mastitis.
Wondering if mastitis is the cause behind that frustrating pain? The symptoms of mastitis often include:
Tender, swollen breasts
One or more lumps in the breast
Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or greater
Flu-like symptoms such as chills and fatigue
Red skin, sometimes in a wedge-shaped pattern
Breast pain or burning that occurs during breastfeeding or while not breastfeeding
Breasts that are warm or hot to the touch
It’s also possible for some moms to notice other symptoms such as discharge from the nipple or nausea and vomiting.
Important Note: If you’re suffering through any of these symptoms, please reach out to your OB/GYN, midwife or family doctor. Untreated mastitis can lead to increased pain and other issues such as abscesses.
Mastitis is most common during the first 6 months of breastfeeding. This is typically when you’ll spend the most time breastfeeding or pumping for your growing baby. The two most common causes of mastitis include:
Bacterial infection: Everyone has bacteria lurking around on their skin (ew, right?). And although most bacteria are harmless, some bacteria can find their way into your skin and cause an infection. When bacteria enter your breast tissue, mastitis is sometimes the result.
Clogged milk duct: The milk ducts in your breast carry your milk to the nipple for your baby. These milk ducts can clog which causes build-up. If you have a clogged duct, you’ll notice a hard lump and redness where the lump is located. Unfortunately, clogged ducts can lead to build-up that results in mastitis.
The first step in treating mastitis is to try and avoid it in the first place. Here are some tips that can help:
Get some rest: We know this is easier said than done right now. But remember, your health is just as important as your baby’s, especially as you breastfeed. If you can’t nap when baby naps, enlist a best friend or a grandparent to help.
Drink your water: Hydration helps with milk flow which can help prevent clogged ducts and mastitis. Drink that water, mama! Try keeping a water bottle with you at all times and sip away throughout the day.
Wear light clothing: Restrictive clothing and bras that are too tight can restrict your milk flow. Wear light clothing that’s comfortable for you to move around in. It’s the perfect excuse to wear those leggings and oversized tees (as if we needed one, right?).
Eat healthily: Eating healthy improves your body’s ability to prevent, fight and recover from infections. Try a nutrient-rich diet full of fruits, veggies and whole grains.
Clean everything that touches your breast: Clean and sanitize everything that touches your breast, including breast pumps and supplies. This helps to prevent bacteria from reaching the delicate skin around your breast.
Even mamas who cover all of their bases still end up with mastitis. Here are some simple ways to find relief from your pain:
Take an OTC pain reliever: If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, try an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever such as acetaminophen to relieve pain.
Try a cool compress: Cool compresses (warm compresses too, depending on what feels best) can help reduce swelling and redness. Be sure not to leave the compress on too long—15 minutes is plenty of time.
Perform a quick massage: Your breasts might be painful to the touch, but a light massage can help relieve clogged ducts.
Increase your Vitamin C: Vitamin C can help boost your immune system, which is a great way to treat infections. If you don’t take one already, try a Vitamin C supplement.
Have fun with a home remedy: Apply cold cabbage leaves to your breast. Although there are limited studies on the effectiveness of this remedy, some mamas say it helps. Or, place some slices of raw potato on your breast and cover them with a towel.
Some cases of mastitis will require further intervention such as antibiotics to rid your body of infection. We recommend reaching out to your OB/GYN, midwife or family doctor for any symptoms of mastitis.
Mastitis doesn’t stop your need to breastfeed. And yes, it’s completely okay to breastfeed with mastitis. While you await relief, here’s how you can breastfeed with less pain:
Offer or pump the sore breast first
Ensure your latch is correct: An incorrect latch can contribute to the pain and discomfort you feel while breastfeeding, especially with mastitis. Your baby’s lips should be turned outward and your breast should fill your baby’s mouth. If you’re pumping, make sure your flange is the right size for your nipple.
Breastfeed often: Breastfeeding often reduces the amount of milk in your breasts at any given time. This can prevent build-up which causes additional pain.
Change positions: You’ll want to make sure you’re emptying your breast. This may require you to change positions to find the one that works best. There are many positions out there from crossover to football.
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