M is for Mastitis

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This post is based on personal experience and not to be taken as medical advice. Consult with your doctor when making medical decisions.

Mastitis is, in my personal opinion, the single most terrifying aspect of breastfeeding. Once my little guy got teeth and would occasionally try to clamp down and tug to release rather than just let go (ooouuuucchhh), losing my nipple was still just a secondary fear. My first was, “no! If he breaks the skin I could end up with mastitis!” My second flash of a thought was, “please don’t let him have bitten it off!” I’ve gotten mastitis twice, so I get the fear. So, what can you look for with a mastitis infection and what should you do if you think you might have it? Well, I’ve learned a couple of things over my nearly 9 months of breast feeding.

What to look for if you suspect mastitis – Engorgement with particularly painful or hard lumps in your breast:

This is something that you’ll likely notice most when your kiddo isn’t draining your breast completely. For me, I noticed that this began to happen when Little Man began to sleep longer stretches. During this time I found that there was one particular area of my right breast that became particularly susceptible to hard lumps, also known as clogged ducts.

What to do:

If you can, start with a warm shower or compress on the breast in order to loosen things up. Draining your breast is pretty much the only way to head off a mastitis infection when you are engorged with clogged ducts. Sometimes you can get your baby to feed, which is ideal because he or she is best equipped to pull the milk out. If that isn’t an option for one reason or another, using a breast bump or draining your breast manually is a great secondary option. I found that draining by hand worked best when I had the lumps because I could specifically focus a lot of my energy on using my thumb to massage out the lump and drag it down to the nipple – you can actually see the stream of breast milk when you hit that lump correctly. Make sure to completely drain the breast. If the breast continues to hurt, feel hot, or the duct cannot be properly drained you should really see a doctor right away. If the duct turns into an abscess it may need to be surgically drained (no one wants to let it get that far).

What to look for when you suspect mastitis – Your breast is particularly hot to the touch:

If your breast is painful and hot to the touch, you may have mastitis. Maybe you didn’t get any noticeable clogged ducts, but it is possible for bacterial to enter the breast from small cuts or cracks – even if you can’t see them. In my personal, awful experience, I can only explain the feeling as similar to what I would imagine it feels like to have your breast replaced by a ball of fire. Boy do I wish I were exaggerating.

What to do:

First of all, if you think that you might have cuts or breaks in the skin, I was advised to pump rather than feed my baby directly in order to avoid getting any bacteria into the skin. Secondarily, if you think you might have mastitis, go see a doctor immediately. It’s better to catch it early on and be on medication to clear up a possible infection than to let it fester.

Some tips to avoid the breast infection mastitis:

  • Avoid tight clothing, particularly tight bras.
  • Drink lots of water
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Rest as much as possible (I always hate this recommendation because it feels impossible with a little one, but really try to get rest where you can)
  • If you have a tendency toward clogged ducts (like myself), keep an eye on possible triggers. For me, sleeping rolled over too far on my right side seemed to contribute to the problem
  • Feed or pump often and make sure your breasts are being fully emptied each time (sometimes the best way to ensure they are fully emptied is to feed your child using different nursing positions)
  • Use a cold pack on the breast after feeding or emptying the breast to relieve swelling

When to see the doctor:

I’m a firm believer in taking care of any possible mastitis infection as soon as you suspect it. If you are at all concerned you may have mastitis I would recommend seeing the doctor right away. Maybe you’re someone who would rather wait then at least keep an eye out for any worsening symptoms. If that sounds like you, then you should keep an eye out for a fever or generally feel like you’re getting sick (sometimes mastitis comes with feelings of other illnesses), or if the lump won’t go away, seek help from your doctor as soon as you notice those symptoms. In my personal experience, the antibiotics that they will send you home with will help within a day or two.

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