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Mastitis: What It Is + What to Do About It

If breastfeeding weren’t difficult enough, 1-3% of breastfeeding women will experience an infection called mastitis. Mastitis is inflammation in your breast tissue, but it can hit you like the flu. If your breasts are swollen, warm, red, and painful, you may be suffering from mastitis. You may also experience fever, chills, and fatigue. Mastitis usually occurs when milk gets trapped in your breast, leading to infection. It can also occur when bacteria from your baby’s mouth enters cracks in your breast tissue.

You’ll be more likely to experience mastitis if your nipples are cracked, or if you restrict milk flow by applying pressure to your breasts, such as with a seat belt or tight-fitting bra. Mastitis is more likely if you’re stressed, you have poor nursing technique, or you have a poor diet. Engorgement, caused by missing a feeding session, can also lead to clogged ducts that can result in mastitis. If left untreated, mastitis may cause you to wean your baby before you intend to. Mastitis can also lead to an abscess in your breast, which could require surgical intervention. Abscesses may appear as tender lumps in your breast that don’t get smaller after breastfeeding.

You may need serious medical attention for mastitis if your fever is higher than 101.5; you’re nauseous or vomiting, which is preventing you from taking antibiotics; you have pus draining from your breast or red streaks going towards your arm or chest; or you’re experiencing dizziness or fainting. 

A doctor may use an ultrasound if you have an abscess. Your doctor may also take a sample of your breast milk or abscess to determine how to treat it. You may be prescribed antibiotics to clear up the infection. Continue to take antibiotics, even once you start feeling better. Keep up breastfeeding or pumping to drain your breasts, even if it’s painful or if you’re on antibiotics. If you have an abscess, avoid breastfeeding on that side. You can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the pain. A warm bath, hot or cold compresses (don’t use ice packs, which can slow milk flow), and drinking plenty of water can help.

How do you avoid mastitis? Drain your breasts fully when breastfeeding; allow your baby to drain one breast fully before switching to the other; and don’t favor one breast over the other. You can also switch up your breastfeeding position; make sure your baby latches properly; allow sore nipples to air dry; and keep breast pads and bras dry. Address any clogged ducts before they transform into mastitis. Take care of your nipples! (Our Pink Stork Clogged Duct Tea can help.) Also, a lactation consultant can be of great support if you’re struggling to breastfeed. With proper treatment, mastitis will go away in a day or two.