Mastitis is a condition that causes breast tissue to become inflamed. The first sign that you may have mastitis is a pinky red area on your breast. You might notice a lump and your breast might seem swollen and hot. Mastitis can also bring on flu-like symptoms in some women.
Mastitis is most likely to occur two or three weeks after you’ve given birth, but it can occur at anytime. It happens when the milk-collecting ducts get blocked due to a build up of milk in the breast. When there are blocked ducts some of the milk can leak into the breast tissue, causing inflammation and sometimes infection - this is the cause of mastitis.
Here are a few of the main reasons that mastitis occurs:
- Your baby begins to feed less for some reason.
- Poor positioning means that the baby cannot drain the entire breast properly.
- Pressure from your clothes or bra.
Reducing your chances of mastitis
There are no guarantees, but the following steps should all help to reduce your risk of developing mastitis:
- Try not to go a long time between feeds and if you need to change your routine try and do it gradually.
- Don’t let your breasts get too full.
- Try and avoid pressure on your breasts.
- Don’t ignore the signs – the sooner you take action when you notice a red area the better.
Getting rid of the problem
If you have Mastitis the thought of breastfeeding might not be very appealing but it’s the best thing you can do to clear any blockages. If you stop breastfeeding you can actually make your mastitis worse, so keeping going is the best thing you can do for you and your baby.
Making sure that your baby is in a good position and is attaching properly is really important. It can be hard to know if you’re getting it right so if you’re not quite sure, ask your midwife, health visitor or one of our breastfeeding support team to check your positioning.
If your breasts feel really full try and feed your baby more often, or you could try expressing some milk between feeds, find out more about expressing here. While you are feeding try and start with the sore side first so that it’s drained as much as possible.
Something warm, whether it’s a warm blanket or warm water poured over your breast can make you more comfortable. You can also try gently massaging the sore area and experimenting with different feeding positions.
What to do if it continues or gets worse?
You should start to feel better within about 12 hours. If you don’t feel any better after trying our advice, or the problem begins to get worse you should speak to your GP. Your doctor might decide to give you anti-inflammatory tablets or antibiotics, but you shouldn’t worry, as this medication will not harm your baby. Even if you are prescribed medication it’s really important that you continue draining your breast, as the medication will not work otherwise.
Taking antibiotics can make you more prone to thrush and can also make your baby irritable for a few days so they should only be used as a final solution. Mastitis that doesn’t clear up can develop into a breast abscess, although this is very rare. If you’re worried that your mastitis isn’t clearing up, seek help from your GP or one of our breastfeeding team. If an abscess has formed you may need to be treated in hospital but it is a relatively simple procedure.
For more information on Mastitis click here.