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Mastitis: How to Prevent It and What to Do When You Get It
As I was preparing for breastfeeding my soon-to-be son, I discovered something called “mastitis.” The author of the article I was reading described it as the worst sickness they ever experienced.
Just like when you get sucked into a horror film, watching more and more intently, unable to change the channel, I found myself clicking on link after link about mastitis.
Here’s what I found: (Here is a good website talking about symptoms, causes, and treatments.)
- mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue
- it can feel like razor blades coming out of your nipples
- it includes a high fever, which can get dangerously high
- often the only way it will go away is with antibiotics
- 1 in 10 breastfeeding mommas get mastitis
- you can get red streaks in the area of the infection
- your breast gets hot to the touch
- it causes you to ache all over
- it often hits you suddenly and progresses rapidly
By the end of my research spree I was pretty darn terrified.
I don’t know, I thought to myself, I think I can handle the other struggles associated with breastfeeding, but I just pray I never have to experience this!
When Little E was about three weeks old, it came.
I woke up that Sunday feeling a bit more tired than normal. My right breast hurt a little bit, but that was pretty normal at that stage in our breastfeeding journey.
By the time we arrived at church I felt like I was coming down with something.
By the end of church my body was aching, and my right breast had a constant aching pain.
I was starting to get some suspicions. I kept feeding Little E, and only fed him on my right breast. If it was just a blocked duct then feeding him on that breast, despite how much it hurt, would help the pain go away. And if it was mastitis, it would help me heal faster.
Once we got back home, I felt awful. I had the chills and a low-grade fever. What hit me the most were the aches…my body felt like it had been run over by a car! They were definitely the worst aches I have ever experienced with any illness.
My right breast would get these sudden, sharp pains deep inside. Feeding Little E was pretty painful, too.
By two o’clock that afternoon I knew that this must be mastitis and that I needed to go see a doctor to get some antibiotics.
Little E, my mom, and I packed up quick and drove down to the Urgent Care. After a quick wait, the doc called me in.
He took my temp (only 100.1…I run pretty low fevers) and took a quick look at my red, angry breast and confirmed it….my worst breastfeeding fear had come true: I had mastitis!
The nurse gave me a shot of penicillin (ouch!) and I picked up a round of antibiotics in the pharmacy (ten days worth).
That evening I was pretty darn miserable. My body was aching like crazy, I had chills and hot flashes, and it sometimes did indeed feel like there were little razors in my nipple.
The next morning I felt myself improving. I was still exhausted and my breast still hurt, but my aches were not as bad and I didn’t have a fever. As the day went on I started feeling worse, but I always follow a pattern of feeling worse toward the evenings when I am sick.
The following morning I felt much better.
Three days after my visit to the Urgent Care I was back to completely normal.
It actually wasn’t as bad as I had expected! I know that a lot of moms have had to, or chosen to, stop breastfeeding because of mastitis, and I totally respect that choice. It was really painful and hard, and I caught mine early! A lot of mommas aren’t as lucky when it comes to healing up so quickly.
But I wanted to share my story with you to encourage you that mastitis does not have to be your nightmare to end all nightmares!
Yes, it is really painful and it does make you feel awful. However, there are ways to help prevent it and ways to make it through it if it does come.
Breastfeeding is a personal decision, and I definitely respect all mommas for doing what is best for them and their child.
For me, breastfeeding Little E has been such a joy, and if you desire to breastfeed your little one, don’t let mastitis discourage you!
In the scheme of things, mastitis is just a blip on our journey with Little E. No, it didn’t feel small in the midst of it, but once we got through it, the pain of that memory faded away quickly.
Here are some tips and tools for you to use in your breastfeeding journey:
*Disclaimer: The following information is not for diagnosis or treatment. I am not a doctor. 😉 This is simply information about what helped me and what I found in my research. Always consult your doctor!*
How to Help Prevent Mastitis
It is important to note that you can still get mastitis even if you follow these tips. However, you can decrease your chances greatly!
- Avoid tight clothing
This may have truly been something that contributed to me developing mastitis. I bought my nursing bras a few weeks before Little E was born, not realizing that my breasts would grow even more after my milk came in! But we were pretty tight on money, so I just lived with the tight nursing bras and shirts.Don’t follow my lead! Tight shirts and bras put unwanted pressure on your breasts and can lead to clogged ducts, which in turn can lead to infection.
- Proper latch
If you’ve been doing a lot of breastfeeding research, or if you already have your little one, I’m sure these two words are permanently stuck in your mind. But that’s only because it is so important to breastfeeding success!If your baby is not latching properly, they will not be able to empty your breasts as effectively. A lot of leftover milk sitting around can lead to clogged ducts and infection.Getting a proper latch can be a real struggle in the beginning. Trust me, I know!
- Empty yourself out
I have an overactive letdown and a lot of milk, which was hard for Little E to handle at first. Now, at four months, he is finally starting to handle it better. This meant, though, that Little E was rarely, if ever, finishing off the entire breast before he got full.Like I mentioned above, when your breast is not emptied out regularly, it can lead to infection.If your little one is not doing the job herself, you need to take matters into your own hands! (Literally, lol.)Manually or mechanically expressing after your baby eats can help to prevent mastitis.However, pumps and hands are not as effective as babies, so use your little one to help clear that infection out! *Important note: it is safe for your baby to breastfeed while you have mastitis. They cannot catch the infection. However, make sure you get an antibiotic that is safe for breastfeeding babies!*
- Working out blocked ducts
Blocked ducts can be painful all on their own, no infection needed!
If you do notice a blockage, it is important to work it out. Letting it sit is likely to lead to the development of mastitis.
There are several ways to do this.
You can change baby’s position when nursing. Using a variety of positions can help milk flow around the entirety of the breast.
While your baby is nursing, massage the clogged area. You can also do this while hand-expressing or pumping.
Remember, even though nursing, expressing, or pumping sound like the last thing you want to do when your breast is sore from a blocked duct, it’s much better than developing an infection!
What To Do If You Get Mastitis
Despite all your best efforts, you may still get mastitis. In fact, it affects 1 in 10 breastfeeding moms.
If you do, here are some things to help you through:
There are natural methods of treating mastitis that you can use instead of medication. However, there are certain cases in which you should talk to your doctor immediately about starting antibiotics, which you can read about here. Medication is not usually my first choice. However, I wanted to make sure that I a) protected myself from danger and b) got rid of the infection in its entirety to prevent recurrence. I also had red streaking, intense aching symptoms, and a sudden fever, all symptoms mentioned in the article above that indicate a real need for antibiotics. It is very important that you make it very clear that you are breastfeeding and want to continue breastfeeding so that your doctor will know to prescribe medications that are safe for babies. I’m pretty sure I annoyed the doctor and nurse by explicitly asking if they were safe for Little E about 5 times, but I wanted to be sure! It is also crucial that you take the antibiotics for the full prescribed time. My doctor gave me 10 days worth of antibiotics. Even though I was feeling well by day 3, I needed to take the full 10 days to ensure that the infection was completely gone. The most common cause of recurrent episodes of mastitis is that the first infection was never completely gone.
- Normal sick actions
What do you normally do when sick to get better? Bed rest and fluids! This is so important with mastitis. Your body is desperately fighting an infection. It needs rest. And it needs water. Get some help around the house, whether your hubby can stay home or your family or a dear friend can come visit. Stay in bed (preferably with your baby) and have a water bottle with you. My favorite thing to use in bed is my Contigo…it has a button to release the water, making it easy to drink from in bed without having to sit up and without spilling water everywhere.
- Natural treatments
There are some natural ways to help your body heal faster. Always be sure to make sure that any herbs or treatments are safe for your baby when you are breastfeeding. Here is a great link listing some natural treatments for mastitis.
I know. Breastfeeding with mastitis sounds awful. But it is essential to get rid of the infection and healing quickly! In order for breastfeeding to be the most helpful in the case of mastitis, follow these guidelines:
- nurse frequently – aim for every two hours, and if you can’t feed baby then express
- nurse and/or express until empty (keep the sick breast as empty as possible, but don’t forget about the other one completely!)
- massage before – a warm compress and a massage before feeding can improve milk flow
- massage during – gently but firmly massage from the affected area toward the nipple
- lean over baby during feeding – this allows gravity to help with milk flow (as long as baby can handle this; with my overactive letdown this was too much for Little E)
- pump or express after nursing to ensure breast is drained completely
Push through, momma! In this case, the pain truly is gain – faster healing!
Hopefully, these last four tips are some that you will never need.
But if you do, be encouraged! There are things you can do to help, and it will be over before you know it!
Have you experienced mastitis? What did or didn’t help? Leave your comments below!
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