Breastfeeding Challenges: Mastitis
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Breastfeeding Challenges: Mastitis

Mastitis in breastfeeding women is caused by milk stasis, an imbalance between milk production and delivery or consumption. Essentially, more milk is produced in your breast than what is being expressed.

There are a few challenges mothers face when it comes to breastfeeding. 10% of mothers have mastitis issues, a noticeable inflammation of one or both breasts that may include a bacterial infection. The condition also affects women who are not breastfeeding, and the condition has been reported in men as well. However, it mostly affects breastfeeding women.

In short, mastitis in breastfeeding women is caused by milk stasis, an imbalance between milk production and delivery or consumption. Essentially, more milk is produced in your breast than what is being expressed. This causes a build-up that results in inflamed milk glands.

Let’s talk in-depth about what to expect from this condition, how to stay preventative, and what to do when you’re experiencing it.

What Causes Mastitis?

breastfeeding mother

The consensus is that mastitis is mostly caused by a build-up of milk in the affected breast. This is generally caused by a nursing mother not feeding her baby at the appropriate times or by not fully emptying the breast at feed times.

Incorrect feeding posture will affect feeding, and your baby may not latch onto your breast correctly. Several reasons affect regular feeding, like an ill infant and other unforeseen events. Mastitis can affect any breastfeeding mom and is common in the first few months of breastfeeding. As your baby develops a more regular feeding routine, the risk subsides. If you pick up that your baby is not feeding normally, it's wise to visit your pediatrician or a lactation specialist to determine the cause.

Breast milk is produced on demand, and problems will arise if the demand is not met. A build-up of milk may result in a milk duct becoming blocked. The stagnant milk can remain in the breast and quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria. This bacteria can enter your baby's mouth through a cracked nipple or broken skin around your nipple. 

In addition, mastitis can also be caused by smoking, nipple piercings, eczema, breast implants, shaving or plucking hairs around your nipple, an underlying health condition like diabetes, and a weak immune system that makes you prone to infections.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

Breast pain and swelling accompanied by redness and warmth around the inflamed area (often a wedge-shaped pattern) are typical mastitis signs. The lymph nodes closest to the affected breast will be swollen and painful. On closer inspection, you may feel a lump in your breast that could lead to an abscess if left untreated. Mastitis usually brings on flu-like symptoms, typically including fever, chills, an increased heart rate, and a general lack of energy.

How Does Mastitis Affect Breastfeeding?

joy of breastfeeding

The onset of mastitis can be very painful and may discourage some mothers from breastfeeding their babies. There is the added concern that taking antibiotics to cure mastitis will adversely affect your little one as well. This is a myth, and as a result, it causes many mothers to stop breastfeeding.

Medical professionals encourage breastfeeding to alleviate the condition, and the antibiotics will most likely not harm your baby. However, your doctor will inform you about breastfeeding while on antibiotics. Each case is determined by the mother, child, and medical professional.

The best way to treat mastitis is to continue breastfeeding. You will need to feed your baby more frequently from the affected breast, or you’ll need to express milk to normalize flow. The earlier you catch the condition and remedy it, the less chance there will be of prolonged pain and possible infection. In this way, you will help normalize flow and reduce the build-up of milk in your breast. The flavor of your milk may also change and become saltier, but it will not adversely affect your baby.

How Long Does it Take For Mastitis to Go Away?

Catching the condition early will save you from a lot of pain and discomfort. Treatment will relieve the symptoms within a day or two, but this depends on the severity of the condition. If you have developed an abscess, your doctor will have to drain it and prescribe a course of antibiotics. Once the normal flow has been restored, the pain and other symptoms will subside.

What Are Some Remedies For Mastitis?

breastfeeding young mother

Good breast health is the key to reducing the risk of developing mastitis. Breastfeeding correctly is easy, but it's also a fine art, and you have to make sure your breasts never overfill. By simply sticking to your feeding routine and not cutting feeding sessions short, you will be on target for supply and demand. If your little one becomes ill and is not feeding normally, it may become necessary to express milk using a breast pump so you can avoid a build-up of milk.

Should you feel a lump in your breast, it could be from the feeding position, so change positions so all the milk glands and ducts are evenly empty. A gentle breast massage from the top of your breast towards your nipple will help loosen up the lump and open the milk passage.

You can try a hot bath or shower before feeding. Alternatively, you can place a heat pack on the affected breast, or a warm cloth can be placed on your breast for a few minutes. The heat will help to open up blocked ducts.

Always feed your baby from the affected breast first, and if need be, you can express milk to soften your breast after your baby feeds. You can also use an ice pack after feeding sessions to help alleviate the pain.

Pressure on your breasts will contribute to mastitis manifesting, so it's best to avoid tight-fitting bras or other clothing that places pressure on your breasts. Car seat belts and baby carrier straps also put undue pressure on your breasts.

Light exercise is useful, but avoid picking up heavy objects because the stress and tension go from your shoulders to your breasts.

Finally, avoid sleeping on your stomach to avoid stress and undue pressure.

Take good care of your breasts and consult your doctor if mastitis symptoms persist for more than a few days.

How KeaBabies Can Assist You

You may find our nursing pads helpful when experiencing mastitis. Our organic breastfeeding nursing pads are sustainably made from very comfortable bamboo fibers with multiple waterproof absorbent layers that protect you from getting wet. The contoured designs ensure an excellent fit for several bust sizes. Having a pack of pads means you never have to worry about running out, and because they’re reusable, you never have to invest in more - just wash and dry! Get one of our award-winning bundles in several colors now!


Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Nadia Rumbolt

Nadia Rumbolt is a mom of many trades, including creative writing, blogging, van life, minimalism, veganism, the beach, nature, and the occult.


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