Mastitis – Causes, Symptoms and Remedies

Breastfeeding is encouraged for several reasons besides nutrition and immunity; the baby also forms a bond with the mother through this process. However, breastfeeding can be hampered if the mother catches an infection called mastitis. This affects breastfeeding, at times, forcing the mother to stop the process altogether. Let us understand the condition which affects the breasts by looking at the causes, symptoms and treatment in detail.

What Is Mastitis?

Mastitis in breast is basically a swelling or lump in breast accompanied by pain, tenderness and redness. The condition of acute mastitis is commonly experienced by mothers within three months of their delivery. It is not restricted to breastfeeding mothers but can affect women in general. Women who have any kind of chronic health problem, or a lifestyle disease like diabetes, are also likely to suffer from mastitis (whether they be new mothers or not). Cancer too can lead to mastitis.

 Causes of Mastitis

As explained previously, mastitis refers to swelling, enlargement, or inflammation of breasts. There are several causes for mastitis.

In new mothers, breast inflammation is most commonly caused as a result of infection by bacteria coming from the baby’s mouth, that enter the milk ducts of the breast through fine cracks in the nipple during breastfeeding. While this is not common, between 1 and 3 percent of new mothers suffer from mastitis.

Sometimes mastitis is also caused as a result of clogged milk ducts due to insufficient breastfeeding. A baby – for various reasons – may not be able to empty the mother’s breast in one feed. At such times, milk gets accumulated in the breasts, leading to mastitis. This problem can be mitigated by regularly breastfeeding the baby. However, clogged milk ducts increase chances of mastitis caused by breast infection, and can also worsen an existing infection.

Signs and Symptoms of Mastitis

Clogged breast duct symptoms are mentioned below:

  • You may feel that the entire breast or a part of it is painful, tender, swollen and at times warm. Some mothers can experience inflammation in a specific area while othersmay feel the whole breast is tender.
  • The most prominent sign is the formation of a hard lump on the section of breast pointing towards the nipple which often feels tender when touched.
  • Lump in breast may leave you tired and achy. Sometimes the body shows symptoms comparable to flu, mainly chills and/or fever. If a breastfeeding mother has flu symptoms, then she is probably suffering from mastitis without feeling any other symptoms.
  • You may also notice white discharge or streaks of blood from the nipple.
  • A constant high fever that does not recede easily and prolonged breast tenderness. You feel out of energy if mastitis is accompanied with an infection.
  • Cracked nipples that bleed are a common symptom too. You might even miss out on feedings or take longer breaks between each feed.

Non lactational mastitis symptoms are identical to those of mastitis observed in new mothers. However non-lactational mastitis is not as common.

Diagnosis of Mastitis (Breast Infection)

If you notice the symptoms above, then consult a doctor. Timely treatment can help reduce discomfort, prevent frequent disruption to breastfeeding and avoid other complications. You can also take lactation consultation for further assistance.

Mastitis is normally diagnosed based on the symptoms, history and medical tests. The doctor may suggest breast milk sample for culture to determine the germs affecting the condition. Based on the diagnosis, the doctor can find the underlying reason of breast soreness. Other issues can be ignored like abnormalities in the baby’s mouth, fissures in nipples, blocked milk ducts or infection from yeast. You may be suggested to take a mammogram to diagnose a possible inflammatory form of breast cancer. It is a quite rare form of cancer that also shows symptoms similar to mastitis.

Risk Factors for Developing Mastitis

The risk factors associated with the formation of mastitis include:

  • Cracked nipples that are sore are prone to infection
  • Not using the breasts equally while breastfeeding and not completely draining the milk, which can clog the ducts
  • Poor latching at the breast. If the baby fails to latch on properly it will not suck milk properly from the breast. In fact, if you don’t nurse the baby in the correct position it will irritate your nipples thus increasing the risk.
  • Irregular expressing or feeding
  • A tightly fitted bra
  • Multiple births .
  • A family history or previous experience of mastitis
  • Poor nutrition, which could make it easier for bacteria to thrive in the mammary gland,

Complications

  • If the condition isn’t treated it may lead to a collection of deep tissue consisting of puss or abscess in your breast which become firm due to thickening. Such a formation will need a surgical procedure to drain the abscess.

How Long Does Mastitis Last?

If diagnosed in time, mastitis can be easily treated and recovery from it doesn’t take time. If you are suggested antibiotics then ensure you complete the course. If you notice that your breasts are still tender and you are still running a high temperature, then do reach out to your doctor.

What Should You Do If You Are Breastfeeding And Have Mastitis?

If you are a new mother, it’s crucial that you continue to breastfeed even if you have mastitis, so that the milk doesn’t accumulate. Here are some tips that can be followed:

  • It may hurt while feeding but continue with the process because it will ease your problem.
  • Try massaging your breast along the blocked area, starting closer to your chest, and move towards the nipple.
  • Keeping warm flannels on the breasts for some time before feeding can give you some relief. This will cause let-down reflex and make the feeding process much easier for you.
  • Sometimes, your baby may not able to empty your entire breast owing to different reasons. If this is happening on a regular basis, get into the habit of pumping your milk in a bottle and then feed it to your baby.
  • Change positions while feeding to help move the blockage and find the positions more effective for feeding.

Mastitis Treatment

Normally blocked milk duct treatment includes oral antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing infection. Another treatment is to drain out milk either through breastfeeding or pumping. This prevents more bacteria from accumulating in the breast thus reducing the period of the infection.

Does Mastitis Affect Your Baby?

Even while you grapple with mastitis, know that it won’t impact your baby. They can always keep taking feeds, even from affected breasts; milk however, may taste saltier than normal for a while. Even if the baby happens to consume the bacteria from the infection through the milk, it will be destroyed by the baby’s digestive acids. It is important to mention that the effect of mastitis antibiotics on the baby is nil. The only indirect effect that the medication has is that your milk supply could be reduced from the impacted breast.

Home Remedies for Mastitis

There are some natural remedies for mastitis which you could try at home to get relief from the condition:

  1. You can try using a cold pack on the breast each time before you feed. Ensure it is not applied directly as it could damage the skin, and always cover it with a clean cloth before applying. The cold compress helps with the swelling condition and provides relief. The hot compress, on the other hand, can aid clearing of blocked ducts, circulation of blood and improves milk flow. It can kindle your let-down reflex which makes the process of nursing smoother.
  2. Cabbage leaves can be used as the sulphur component in them can help reduce inflammation. This could give a lot of relief to nursing mothers from issues like engorgement and blocked ducts. For this, keep a few cabbage leaves in the refrigerator for at least half an hour and then cover up your infected breast. Replace with a fresh one after the leaves placed have turned warm.
  3. You can try another remedy that is easily available in the kitchen. Garlic has antibiotic properties which help in killing the bacteria. Consume two raw garlic cloves in the morning as you wake up. You can also consume it with juice or water.
  4. Even Echinacea, a herb that strengthens the immune system could help in fighting infections. The flavonoids in the herb are known for antibiotic and antimicrobial benefits. You can also smear the solution of the Echinacea root on the affected region at least four or five times in a day. Remember to clean the area properly with warm water before offering the feed.
  5. One of the natural cures for mastitis is apple cider vinegar with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can help reduce swelling, combat infection and stop it from spreading. It also offers an added energy boost. For this, take one portion of apple cider vinegar and two portions of lukewarm water to make a solution and put in on the infected area. Let it stay for at least 15 minutes before washing it off. Keep repeating this twice or thrice until the infection goes away.

How to Prevent Mastitis?

For mastitis prevention try not to wear tight fitting tops and bras that bind your breasts tightly. Make sure you sleep on your sides as the milk tends to back up in the breasts if you end up sleeping on your tummy.

Ensure that your feeds are consistent and the baby is not missing out on them because it can cause breasts to engorge, leading to clogged ducts. Compressing or massaging your breast before the baby latches on is an effective method to prevent clogged ducts. You can also use a pillow designed for breastfeeding to ensure right feeding position.

Why Are You Getting Mastitis More Often?

If you experience the problem often then there is a probability that you haven’t recovered completely from the condition. You are also prone to mastitis if you are weary or stressed, hence make sure the treatment is not delayed after you discover it for the second time. This is because the infection could cause an abscess in the breast and call for a surgery.

This is again a temporary phase and will fade away with time. But don’t ignore the symptoms and take necessary precautions mentioned above to avoid the condition.

Also Read: How to Deal with Leaky Breasts