How to Treat Mastitis While Breastfeeding

mother breastfeedingAs wonderful and fulfilling an experience as breastfeeding can be for both mother and baby, things may not always go according to plan, and related health concerns can crop up from time to time. One particularly common breastfeeding ailment is mastitis.

Studies show as many as 2 out of 10 breastfeeding moms experience this  inflammation of the breast. Thought to be caused by infection, mastitis typically causes a hard, red, tender, swollen area of one breast, and fever. Other symptoms include muscle aches and chills.

Women who suspect they are suffering from mastitis should be diagnosed by their health care provider. The infection will not dissipate without treatment, which usually requires a 10- to 14-day course of antibiotics.

Here's how to get relief:


Antibiotics: Many women feel well 24 to 48 hours after starting a course of antibiotics, but it's important to finish out the entire course of medication to prevent recurrence. Treatment -- generally with the antibiotic cephalexin or penicillin-based dicloxacillin (brand name Keflex) -- is safe while breastfeeding. However, monitor your baby for any potential, mild side effects, such as gas or rash. The most common side effect of antibiotics in breastfeeding infants is diarrhea, and this is to be expected as antibiotics kill off the good bacteria, sometimes causing diarrhea, according to the Texas Tech University InfantRisk Center.

Continuing to breastfeed: "Even if a woman is being treated with antibiotics, I always recommend they continue nursing their baby and nursing often -- especially on the infected side," says postpartum doula and co-founder of Baby Caravan Emily Crocker. 

To get milk flowing, it may help to try a warm compress on the breast for 5 to 10 minutes before breastfeeding. "It also gets your circulation moving, and it's more appealing to your baby to have a warm breast instead of a cold one," notes Crocker. If you don't have a compress, you can get the same effect with a bucket of warm water. "Fill high enough so that you can literally dunk your breast into it," Crocker says. "You can massage your breast at the same time. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes, and then, lie down to nurse your baby."

"This can be super painful, but the truth is that mastitis is usually being caused by a clogged duct, and the best way to unclog a duct is to latch that baby on and let her do her job." (Mastitis won't hurt the baby, however, it may reduce the milk supply in the affected breast.) To make breastfeeding less painful, Crocker suggests nursing while lying on your side. "I always recommend doing this during the day, so you can take the time to rest your body, as well," she says.

Cold compresses: Crocker recommends using a bag of frozen peas as a pain-relieving cold compress on the breast. While it may sound unconventional, "the bag can fit around your breast and really form to the infected area," she explains. "Keep it on until the pain is relieved or the peas are melting," she explains.

Warm showers: As it helps to alternate cold and hot to relieve pain and increase circulation, you can take a warm shower up to twice a day. "Once a day is plenty, but if you feel like it helps, you can do it morning and night," she says. "Morning is the best time, because that is when you have the most milk in your breast, and it’s the most painful." In the shower, you'll do well to massage the infected breast. "This helps to alleviate the blocked duct, which is the main issue," Crocker says. "After a period of adjusting to the water, allowing it to run on the beast should give you some relief, as well." Though, bear in mind: "Some women prefer cold over a hot shower," so if warm isn't working for you, Crocker suggests trying the opposite.

Finally, Crocker advises that moms suffering from mastitis should prioritize rest. She notes, "Now your body is not only caring for all your infant's needs, but it’s also fighting off an infection, so make sure you are taking care of yourself as well as your baby."


Have you ever had mastitis? How did you address it?


Image via motheringtouch/Flickr

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