8 Tips For Dealing With Mastitis

Image via c r z/Flickr
Image via c r z/Flickr

Ah, mastitis. 

Perhaps you've heard of this lovely little syndrome, common to breastfeeding mothers and apparently–according to my husband who grew up on a farm–dairy cows.

Sadly, I am all too familiar with our ‘friend' mastitis. Not only did I have mastitis so severely that I had to be hospitalized with it, but I've had it a whopping five times alone with my son. Ouch!

As an OB nurse and an unfortunate momma who's had to deal with mastitis many a time, here are a few things I've learned about dealing with, preventing, and treating mastitis. 

Image via @boetter/Flickr
Image via @boetter/Flickr

1. Prevention is key. When it comes to mastitis, I've learned the hard way that preventing mastitis from happening in the first place really is the key. Mastitis can be especially common in the first few weeks after birth, as you and your baby adjust to your milk flow. It can take a couple of weeks for your body to figure out how much milk to make for your baby; you may find that you are overproducing, or your body may make more milk if your baby is a “snacker” or frequent nurser, but is not really taking in large quantities. Dehydration and overdoing your activity after birth are also leading causes of mastitis and are what have led to my downfall every.single.time. I came down with mastitis, predictably, with my third child after I attended two weddings and a baby shower all within a week of giving birth. First drinks in nine months + late nights = disaster. To safeguard yourself against mastitis, get plenty of rest and water, and be on the lookout for signs and symptoms, especially in that first month or so as your milk production settles into a “normal” pattern. 

 

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Image via boetter/Flickr
Image via boetter/Flickr

2. A clogged duct is typically the first sign of mastitis. One of the first signs that mastitis is trying to invade your life is often a clogged duct; a clogged duct on your breast feels like a hard, raised bump along your milk ducts on your breasts. It's usually red, inflamed, and painful, often tender to the touch. Many times I've been alerted to the fact that I need to be on the lookout for mastitis simply because I will notice that my breast is sore when I'm getting dressed in the morning–that's how painful they can be. Although a clogged duct can sometimes be caught and treated early enough, if you aren't able to unclog the duct, infection can swiftly settle in, and that's when you get mastitis. 

Image via pmarkham/Flickr
Image via pmarkham/Flickr

3. When in doubt, remember heat. So you discover a clogged duct and want to take every preventive measure to clear it up before it becomes more serious–what should you do? The best way to try to unclog that duct is to apply heat to try to break it up the clog and try to get the milk duct flowing freely again. As painful as it sounds, as soon as you discover a clogged duct, get a washcloth as hot as you can possibly stand it and apply to the clogged area. Gently massage the duct and repeat with another warm washcloth on and off throughout the day. Many people also recommend taking a hot shower and letting the spray hit directly on the clogged area; just be careful as too much stimulation on your breasts in the shower may cause your breasts to over-produce milk. 

Image via A Mothering Touch/Flickr
Image via A Mothering Touch/Flickr

4. Nurse through the pain. The second important step in getting that duct unclogged is nursing your baby; yes, it will hurt, sometimes excruciatingly so, but nursing the affected breast is extremely important for both just unblocking a clogged duct and treating mastitis. Whether you are battling a clogged duct or full blown mastitis, you will need to empty out that breast and nursing your baby is the single most effective means of accomplishing that. The clog (or the infection) will not hurt the baby, so no need to worry. 

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Image via Mothering Touch/Flickr
Image via Mothering Touch/Flickr

5. Get plenty of rest. The other key to both preventing and treating mastitis is to get plenty of rest, especially in those first few weeks. Like I mentioned earlier, every time I've had mastitis, it's been a direct result of not taking care of myself like I needed to. Mastitis is a major infection and for some reason, it is one of the most exhausting illnesses around; I've had more “serious” illnesses, but nothing has wiped me out as much as having mastitis. 

Image via David Leo Veksler/Flickr
Image via David Leo Veksler/Flickr

6. Know the signs. Unfortunately, once you'd had mastitis once, you can be more susceptible to reoccurring bouts. After getting it once with my son, I wound up getting mastitis a total of four more times before I was able to shake it, even with round-the-clock antibiotics. A constant busy schedule and two other little ones at home just didn't allow me to get enough rest to recover from it and my body couldn't heal. It was ridiculous and after awhile, I knew the pattern of how it would start for me. First, mastitis begins with some breast tenderness or a sore spot; next, comes a bone-deep tiredness so severe you literally ache; and lastly, mastitis is always marked by a remarkably high fever. At one point, mine spiked to almost 105 degrees. If you notice any of these symptoms, it's best to take action as soon as possible. 

Image via Mothering Touch/Flickr
Image via Mothering Touch/Flickr

7. Call your doctor. If your clogged duct has progressed into full-blown mastitis, you will more than likely need a prescription for antibiotics in order to clear it up. Call your doctor as soon as you show any sign of an increasing fever, apply a warm compress, and consider taking ibuprofen to help reduce the swelling and inflammation. And don't forget to nurse your baby as much as possible to help empty that duct out! 

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Image via EraPhernalia Vintage/Flickr
Image via EraPhernalia Vintage/Flickr

8. Mastitis can be more serious. Because mastitis is so common, some women may not understand how serious it can be. With my first child, my mastitis went undetected for so long (because I wasn't aware of the signs and how a clogged duct can lead to it) and became so severe that I actually had to be hospitalized for two days on IV antibiotics to treat it. Not fun. And the infection was so bad in the affected breast that it permanently damaged the milk ducts; to this day, that breast makes significantly less milk and causes nursing to be painful. So if you suspect you have mastitis or a clogged duct, don't hesitate to take action to treat it.

{ MORE:  The Dangers of Mastitis in Breastfeeding Mothers }

Have you battled mastitis? Share your experience in the comments to help other mothers. 

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What do you think?

8 Tips For Dealing With Mastitis

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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5 comments

  1. Stephen says:

    Thanks for sharing this! It can really help those who suffer and want to prevent mastitis. Probiotics can also be a great help. You should try it since it is also known to be safe in pregnant and babies. Thank you

  2. Stephen says:

    Very helpful tips thanks for sharing this. Mastitis is really a serious pain. Probiotics like Qiara will help reduce the recurrence of mastitis by aggressively targeting and outcompeting the pathogenic bacteria in breast milk that may be causing the pain and infection.

  3. Oh, Chaunie – I feel you on this one. I had a similar experience of ending up hospitalized (on a PICC line and pumping and dumping through it all). Mastitis is a nasty beast. My plug was caused by wearing an underwire nursing bra. I know that some women can wear them, but it hit me in the wrong spot and things got bad very quickly. I love that all this info is being shared in the comments. Hopefully we can help some others to avoid these issues!

  4. Miriam says:

    I experienced, more than anything, clogged ducts. They were painful and I wasn’t sure how to prevent them from happening except to wake my LO up and beg her to eat as much as possible. Now, I am very happy to say that I am less anxious to say “I’m done” while feeding and let my child eat as long as they can THEN Pump!! Getting rest is new advice! I will keep this with me for my next child!

  5. Joanna says:

    I agree that rest and staying hydrated are essential to preventing mastitis….Also, nursing in different positions and alternating sides (start nursing first on the side nursed last.) One thing that is frequently overlooked and was the case with my last daughter is if the baby is “tongue-tied.” This is when the band of tissue that connects the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth is too short and tight, it decreases the ability of the baby to nurse effectively. If it is determined that tongue-tie is causing breastfeeding difficulties, there is a simple procedure called a “frenetomy” that can quickly correct the problem. In a relatively painless in-office procedure, the doctor simply clips the frenulum to loosen it and allow the tongue full range of motion. It takes less than a second, and because the frenulum contains almost no blood, there is usually only a drop or two of blood. The baby is put on the breast immediately following the procedure, and the bleeding stops almost instantly. Anesthesia and stitches are not necessary. The baby cries more because he is being restrained for a few seconds than he does because of pain. In my opinion, based on my own experience with my 3rd daughter (who eventually had to have a frenotomy when she was 4 at the dentist’s office because it was causing problems with speech) it is much less traumatic for the baby to do it as an infant. I had mastitis 8 times in 9 months. My baby nursed frequently but never for very long and slept poorly which I realize in retrospect was probably because she was never nursing long enough or effectively enough to get the hindmilk. This is one of those things I wish I could go back and do-over.

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