Mastitis is inflammation of the breast that may be accompanied by infection. Mastitis affects about 20% of Australian women. Mastitis mostly occurs during the first six weeks postpartum, however, it can also occur at any other point during your breastfeeding journey.
To help you understand this condition, we have prepared a list of its potential causes. Then, more importantly, we have offered a few suggestions for how to deal with mastitis.
Mastitis Can Be Caused By the Following
Here are a few of the many factors that can influence the development of mastitis.
- An untreated blocked duct
- Having cracks or damage on your nipples, which may allow bacteria to enter your breast
- A baby’s poor attachment to the breast
- Having long periods of time between feeds
- Having breasts that are too full
- Wearing a bra or clothing which is too tight and “cutting in” to your skin
- Weaning from breastfeeding quickly
- Breastfeeding attachment difficulties; i.e. a baby with a tongue-tie
- In some cases, women with over-supply may experience mastitis
Signs and Symptoms Which You May Experience
Here are a few things that you may notice, if you think that you are developing mastitis.
- A red area on the breast
- Soreness or tenderness in the breast
- A warm or hot area on the breast
- You may feel like you have the flu – feeling hot and cold with aching joints
- You may have a temperature (over 38.5 C)
It is also important to consider the following when you think that you may be suffering from mastitis.
- Mastitis may affect one or both breasts
- It can get worse within just a few hours. So, it’s important to be alert and to start treatment as soon as possible
How to Manage Mastitis
In addition to considering the recommendations below, it is important to seek help from a lactation consultant, maternal child health nurse or GP.
- Start treatment at the first signs of mastitis
- Rest as much as you can – Get help from family, friends, and neighbours to help you over the next few days. Rest is important… but, we know how difficult for it can be to find for new mums. This is the time when you call out for help from those around you.
- Aim to breastfeed or express as frequently as you can (8-12 times in 24 hours). Try and keep the affected breast as drained as possible.
- Your breast milk is safe for your baby even if you have mastitis
- Drink plenty of water or fluids and eat nutritious food
- Apply a warm heat pack or face washer to the affected breast before feeding or expressing.
- Breastfeed or express from the affected breast first at each feed. If this is too painful, breastfeed off of the non-affected side for a short while first. This will help the affected breast’s milk to start flowing. Then put your baby back on the affected breast once more. As the milk has already been stimulated to flow it should make the breastfeeding on this side feel easier.
- If you are finding that it is hard to get the milk flowing, try hand expressing before feeds.
- Get help to ensure you are positioning and attaching your baby to the breast correctly.
- Try different breastfeeding positions, as this may help to clear the blockage
- Gently but firmly massage the affected area towards the nipple during the feed
- If, after a breastfeed, you still feel full, express until the breast feels well drained
- Using a cold pack (a packet of frozen peas wrapped in a cloth) after a breastfeed or expression may be soothing and reduce some inflammation
- An anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen is safe to use for pain relief. If you are unable to take this type of medication take paracetamol as directed on the box.
It is Important to See a Doctor When Any of the Following Occur
While it never hurts to give your doctor a call with any concerns, it is especially important that you reach out for professional help if any of the following happen.
- Symptoms have not improved within 12 hours of management (as above). Antibiotics are usually recommended by your GP at this stage.
- Mastitis has been cleared up and then reoccurs some days or weeks later
- There is presence of pus or blood in your breastmilk
- The mastitis is hospital-acquired (you developed mastitis during an inpatient stay in the hospital)
- The mastitis is severe or unusual – if you have any concerns or are not sure it is highly advised you are reviewed by a doctor.
In these cases (above), laboratory investigations or other diagnostic procedures will be recommended by your doctor.
Will My Milk Supply Be Affected by Mastitis?
Some mums do notice a temporary drop in their milk supply following a bout of mastitis.
Sometimes a baby may be fussier on the affected breast during mastitis. This is because the milk can become salty in taste, or, if your supply has dropped and is no longer flowing as quickly as baby is used to, it can cause them to be fussier during feeds.
Even if the milk supply drops in the affected breast, the other side will increase in milk to keep your baby well fed.
Once you are well again, try to feed your baby more frequently or add in an extra expression after feeds on the previously affected breast. This will send signals to your breasts to increase the milk supply again. And, of course, if you are concerned about your milk supply please seek extra help from a lactation consultant.
For community support, please check out the following resources:
Australian Breastfeeding Association – ABA helpline
1800 686 2 686 (1800 mum 2 mum)
The Maternal & Child Health Line
Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – 13 22 29
Maternal and Child Health Nurse local centers
Contact your local council
Lactation consultants at local hospital
Some hospitals have their own breastfeeding clinics. Phone your local hospital for an appointment
Private Lactation consultants
For more information head over to our Medela Australia Facebook page.
What questions do you have about breastfeeding? How would you describe your breastfeeding experience so far? Let’s have a chat here or on our Medela Australia Facebook page.