Mastitis is the word we use to describe an infection in the breast. It is common, affecting maybe 20% of nursing mothers at some stage. It is far less common in cultures that don’t consider breastfeeding to be “The Norm”, probably because frequent feeding is more common. You can help prevent mastitis by feeding your baby on demand; however some women will get it even when they do this.
Mastitis can occur for many of the same reasons as a plugged duct can occur. However, it is more serious and should receive medical attention as soon as possible. Symptoms include:
- Soreness, redness and hardness in the breast
- Sometimes, red streaks can be seen radiating from the affected area
- Milk can take on a stringy texture; this will not affect baby, so continue to feed your baby often.
- Pus or blood may be visible in the milk
- High temperature, flu-like symptoms
Many doctors will prescribe antibiotics for mastitis, but this isn’t always necessary. If the symptoms are mild and have only been present for less than 24 hours, it is best to try treating it naturally first. Antibiotics commonly cause thrush, which is another painful problem that you really don’t want to have to deal with alongside mastitis. However, if the illness is severe and the symptoms aren’t showing signs of improvement after 24 hours, it is best to take antibiotics. If both breasts are affected, there is blood or pus in your milk, red streaking on the breast or if the symptoms come on suddenly, it is important to start a course of antibiotics immediately.
Mastitis should be treated in much the same way as a plugged duct. Other things you can do to help support your recovery are as follows:
- Continue to feed frequently! This is the single most important thing to remember when you have mastitis.
- Mastitis is most commonly caused by a blockage in the breast, so if you continue with frequent feeds you may be able to avoid antibiotics altogether.
- Rest as much as possible. Bed rest with your baby is the most favourable option but for those of us with older children this probably won’t be an option. Keep your feet up as much as possible.
- Drink plenty of fluids, just as you would if you had a cold or the flu.
- You can take pain relieving medication if you wish; anti inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are useful but ask your doctor about their suitability first.