Mastitis is a painful condition that occurs when an infection takes hold in your breast tissue. It typically affects breastfeeding women within the first few months after having their baby, but mastitis can occur at any time while you are still breastfeeding.
Mastitis can be caused by a blocked milk duct, which leads to milk becoming backed up in your breast tissue. Ducts can become blocked when the breast is not completely emptied of milk during a feeding or when there's too much of a gap between feedings or pumping your milk, which can lead to engorgement. This creates an ideal environment in your breast tissue for bacteria to thrive.
Bacteria can also enter your breast tissue through your baby's mouth or cracks in the skin around your nipple, which commonly occur in the early days of breastfeeding when you're getting accustomed to how your nipples should feel when your baby is latched on correctly. Here's an overview of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment approach for this condition:
Mastitis often develops suddenly, and it's common to initially feel like you're coming down with the flu. Other symptoms include the affected breast feeling warm, breast tenderness, localised swelling and a burning sensation when nursing or pumping. You may also develop a high temperature and feel lethargic.
Diagnosis And Treatment Approach
Your doctor will diagnose mastitis based on your symptoms and by examining the affected breast. They may also request a sample of your breastmilk and have it analysed to determine the specific strain of bacteria that has caused the infection.
Antibiotics are prescribed to treat mastitis, and your doctor may want to follow-up with you after your course of antibiotics to ensure the infection has resolved. If required, your doctor can also prescribe painkillers, and you should try and rest as much as you can while you're recovering.
If you're concerned your breast is not being completely emptied during nursing due to your feeding technique or issues with how your baby is latching on, your doctor can also refer you to a lactation nurse who will review your technique and show you how to vary your feeding position. You may be surprised to learn that you can continue breastfeeding while you have mastitis. Your milk has natural antibacterial properties, so the infection won't be passed to your baby.
Mastitis typically responds quicker to treatment when it's addressed early. If you're experiencing any of the symptoms of mastitis, or if you have any concerns relating to breastfeeding, schedule an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.