Let’s keep it real. While breastfeeding can be a really special time shared with your baby, it certainly comes with challenges. Even after you and baby are old pros and have gotten your latch, feeding schedule, and pumping schedule down—difficulties can arise! And while you may or may not deal with it during your breastfeeding journey—it’s important to be in-the-know about one of the more serious breastfeeding issues that can affect as many as 1 in 10 breastfeeding mamas—mastitis.
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is, in the simplest terms, an infection that can occur in your breast. It can happen when the breast is engorged or an area isn’t draining properly, allowing bacteria to grow and cause an infection. While mastitis can occur as a result of a clogged milk duct that isn’t unclogged, it can also come on very suddenly without much warning. Usually a mama with mastitis feels some soreness or a lump typically in only one breast (similar to a clogged milk duct), and experiences other symptoms like:
- Fever or symptoms similar to the flu (feeling run down, body aches, etc.)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Yellow discharge from the nipple (which can look like the colostrum your breasts produce right after birth)
- The breast feels warm (or even hot) to the touch and looks pink or red, or streaky
In some cases, using the tips below can help mastitis clear up in a day or two—but some infections that don’t resolve on their own need to be treated with an antibiotic.
What Should I Do if I Think I Have Mastitis?
If you have a fever or worsening symptoms, you should call your provider as you might need to be prescribed an antibiotic. Call right away if:
- Both of your breasts seem affected
- There is pus or blood in your breastmilk
- You have red streaks near the sore area on your breast
- Your symptoms appeared suddenly and intensely
If you are prescribed an antibiotic to treat mastitis, be SURE to finish all of the doses in the prescription in order to prevent a reinfection. The antibiotics used to treat mastitis will not cause any problems for your nursing baby—so please don’t stop earlier than recommended mama. Untreated breast infections are serious—and can even cause scarring that can impact your milk production. As always, if you’re ever in doubt or have questions about your symptoms, call your provider.
What Else Can I Do to Ease Mastitis Symptoms?
Keep breastfeeding or pumping! Focus on helping the milk move through your breast every two hours (or more often) to prevent your breast from being too full. Massaging the area can help the milk move, too—start behind the sore spot, then move your fingers in a circular motion massaging towards the nipple. Use a warm wet cloth (or a steady stream of warm water in the shower!) on the sore area. If it hurts to have your baby nurse on the infected breast, nurse baby on the other side and let milk flow from the infected side into a towel or burp cloth to help relieve the pressure.
While it might not feel intuitive (because mamas truly are superheroes), ask for help and get some rest! Your body is fighting an infection and needs to heal—and sometimes mastitis can be a sign that you’re simply doing too much. Relax as much as you can until you’re feeling better.