In the realm of breastfeeding, mastitis is right at the top of the list of Things Moms Worry About. It’s probably second only to starving the baby.
Seriously, if you haven’t been concerned about these things, your composure is amazing! For the rest of us (even the non-worry-warts) worry just seems to come packed right into the Mom Briefcase – right along with How Much Caffeine Can I Drink, Massive Love, and a Body That Doesn’t Quite Look Like It Did.
If you had mastitis, would you know what to do? Stop nursing? Go to the doctor? Try a home remedy? What kind of mastitis treatment is even out there???
First, let’s talk about what it is. Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue that’s usually caused by either infection or milk stasis (a science-y way of saying your milk’s staying put).
The biggest mastitis symptoms are:
- redness of the breast
- heat coming from one breast
- swelling of one breast
- tenderness or pain in one breast
- fever and/or chills
- flu-like symptoms
Some of these symptoms, like tenderness and swelling, could also be a sign of engorgement. The thing to remember is that mastitis doesn’t affect both breasts at the same time. So if you’re swollen and achy on both sides, that’s engorgement.
Because mastitis is a problem that can get out of hand quickly, be sure to read more in-depth about how to recognize mastitis symptoms. That way you don’t miss any signs and hurt longer than necessary!
Nursing with mastitis
A lot of moms worry about whether it’s safe to keep nursing with mastitis. The answer is YES! You don’t need to be worried about feeding your baby “sick milk.”
If your mastitis was caused by a bacterial infection, the bacteria most likely came from your baby’s mouth. Even if the bacteria didn’t come from your baby, breastmilk is seriously one of the most powerful antibacterial agents out there. I recently read an article that referred to the immune cells in breastmilk as a SWAT team. 🙂
In fact, not only can you keep nursing, but you should nurse with mastitis. Emptying your breasts at every feeding is tremendously helpful for getting rid of mastitis!
Mastitis treatment at home – the first defense
At the very first hint of mastitis (burning or pain while nursing is usually the first sign), start taking care of those boobs!!! Follow these steps to get well as fast as possible:
- First, make it your priority to nurse often. Keep that milk flowing! Start nursing with the affected side, then when your baby finishes nursing, strap on a breast pump and try to remove as much milk as possible out of the affected breast. Be sure to massage your breast while you nurse and pump, and don’t avoid the painful area! That’s the spot that needs the most attention.
- A warm compress before nursing can help relieve pain and pressure. It also aids in your milk letdown, which may be a problem if you’re in pain.
- After nursing, a cold compress can be a Godsend. Cold cabbage leaves are perfect for this! Put on a loose-fitting bra and line it with the cabbage leaves for soothing, cool relief. It’s ah-mazing! Wear the cabbage leaves until they no longer feel soothing, then replace with a fresh one. (Bonus: if you can handle the taste of raw cabbage, eating it can also fight infection and inflammation from inside your body)
- When you’re not wearing cabbage leaves, BAN THE BRA!!! Restricting your boob’s freedom right now will only hurt your cause. Unless you just really need to have a bra on, nix it.
- Epsom salt is wonderful for any type of infection, so taking a warm Epsom salt bath will be incredibly helpful. The warm water and Epsom salt will work together to soothe your aching breast and draw infection out. Soaking with Epsom salt is perfectly safe for nursing moms and it won’t hurt your baby. Instead of a bath, you can also lay your chest in a bowl of warm water with Epsom salt and soak that way.
- You can take Tylenol for pain relief. Taking the recommended dose of 325 mg is safe for you and your baby.
- Don’t underestimate rest and fluids! Drinking plenty of water and getting more rest than usual will help your body fight inflammation and heal itself.
Since mastitis is a fast-moving condition, the best thing you can do is to go to the doctor at the first sign of trouble!
Now I completely understand why a mom would want to wait. Between crazy hormonal shifts and a newly broken sleep schedule, it’s not always easy for a new mom to make it to the doctor. On top of that, you really don’t want to cart a newborn into a waiting room full of sick people if there’s any way to avoid it. I get that! (Plus, the cheap-skate in me always tries to determine if the outcome is worth the copay. Am I the only one who does that?)
So when is going to the doctor absolutely necessary? If you experience any of these symptoms, get help immediately:
- nausea and vomiting
- fainting or dizziness
- red streaks on the breast
- nipple discharge
- breast pain that makes nursing unbearable
- fever that’s lasted longer than 48 hours
- symptoms worsening
Please don’t hesitate. Mastitis can be life-threatening in some situations!
Your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics for mastitis. Don’t be afraid to use them, but do make sure they’re considered safe for nursing moms.
A side note about abscesses
An abscess is a pocket of pus that forms in the breast as a result of mastitis. It’s pretty rare (only about 5-10% of mastitis cases develop abscesses) but it’s completely possible to develop an abscess. Some of the symptoms of an abscess are pus draining from your nipple, a lump that’s still there after your baby’s full feeding, and a fever that lasts longer than 2 days. If you suspect you have an abscess, get medical help immediately. An untreated abscess can be fatal!
Don’t nurse your baby from the breast with an abscess. Instead, express and discard milk from the breast with the abscess until your abscess has been treated. It will be painful to pump, and a hot compress can help ease the pain. Engorgement will only make everything worse, so avoid that at all costs.
No matter what anyone says, you do not need to wean your baby because of an abscess or mastitis! Once the abscess is healed, you can continue breastfeeding for as long as you and your baby want.
Once you’ve recognized that you have mastitis symptoms, you’ve begun your mastitis treatment at home, and you’ve seen your doctor, then you’re well on your way to getting better!
Mastitis is aggressive, but you don’t have to suffer with it for very long. I hope you’re back to normal very, very soon!
Unfortunately, mastitis isn’t a one-and-done kind of illness. You can get it again, so be sure to read my article about preventing mastitis to keep it from returning!
Do you know any other mastitis treatment or any ways to relieve mastitis symptoms? Please share in the comments below!