What is Mastitis?
Breasts are glands in a woman’s body that comprise numerous milk ducts that aid breastfeeding. Sometimes these glands become sore and tender to touch, so much so, that even a gentle touch may send one reeling in pain. Most commonly, such severe pain results from an infection in the milk ducts. This condition is known as Mastitis and is caused due to an infected crack in the nipples, or stagnant milk in the ducts. It is commonly seen when the body is preparing to breastfeed or the mother is already breastfeeding.
If the nipples are cracked, the infection can be severe as the bacteria enter from the baby’s mouth. The bacteria can multiply further after getting into the breast tissue, causing painful symptoms. Some women may experience infection in the milk ducts even though they are not feeding or pregnant. Non-lactational mastitis occurs because of a weak immune system and is also seen in those who have undergone radiation therapy. Women with diabetes are also subjected to such a condition, although it is rare.
Mastitis during breastfeeding is called puerperal mastitis and in case the mother does not breastfeed the condition is called periductal mastitis. The condition can however, be cured quickly, and can be avoided with a few precautions and safety measures.
Read: Breast Engorgement - Causes and Solutions
What Causes Mastitis?
Mastitis is a common condition in mothers who breastfeed. Some of its common causes include
- Improper sucking during breastfeeding by the infant.
- Improper latching or attachment during breastfeeding.
- Mastitis can also happen when the baby favors only one breast.
- It can also happen due to irregular breastfeeding.
- Mastitis is also seen in women with pierced or cracked nipples.
- Smoking is another cause behind the infection in milk ducts and breasts causing mastitis.
What are the common Mastitis symptoms to watch out for?
Mastitis can be diagnosed immediately and can be treated based on some common symptoms. These are:
- Inflamed tissue around the infected area
- Swelling of breasts as milk ducts get infected
- Redness of the nipples with a feeling of tenderness and warmth in the breasts
- Chills and shivers as experienced in flu or fever
- Severe pain around the infected area
- Discharge from nipple that can cause inconvenience
- Hardness of breast along with severe pain
How is Mastitis Diagnosed?
Mastitis is not a chronic condition and can occur immediately after coagulation of milk in the ducts. It causes intense discomfort and therefore immediate medical advice or treatment must be sought to find relief.
The diagnosis is usually performed through a physical examination. The presence of redness around the nipple can provide a confirmation for the diagnosis. However, your doctor will first rule out two major conditions during the diagnosis - the presence of breast abscess which can occur in delayed diagnosis of the condition and inflammatory breast cancer, which can be a rare condition that is associated with swelling and redness. In any of these cases, there can be intense pain, which can worsen if not treated on time.
Also Read: How to effectively treat swollen breasts in 10 simple ways
Mastitis Treatment and Home Remedies To Relieve Pain
Treatment of mastitis is very important as it a painful condition and may affect your routine of breastfeeding your baby. Antibiotics are the most common treatment for mastitis. They provide relief within two days. The dosage needs to be followed as per the advice. However, if you are breastfeeding and hesitant to take medication you can try these home remedies as well:
#1. Consume a diet rich in Lecithin
Lecithin increases the amount of polyunsaturated fats in the milk. This dilutes breast milk, thus, making it easy to flow through the ducts. Some common lecithin rich foods are - eggs, meat, red kidney beans, soybeans, tomatoes, and potatoes.
#2. Nurse your baby
Breastfeeding is one of the best and natural ways to clear the clogs in milk ducts. Nurse your baby often or express the milk in a bottle and preserve it if feeding is difficult. It is important to maintain a regular schedule. This prevents stagnation of milk leading to pain and infection.
#3. Potato slices
Apply potato slices help to reduce pain and inflammation from the affected area. Potato is anti-inflammatory and helps fights infections. It is rich in enzymes that reduce swelling and redness of breasts. Slice the potato thinly and soak in water for 15-20 minutes. Now place these slices on the breasts for 18-20 minutes. You can replace these with fresh ones after 20 minutes and repeat the process three times within one hour. If you can do this thrice a day you are sure to feel quite relieved.
Also Read: A step by step guide on breastfeeding for new moms
#4. Fenugreek and rosemary compress
You can make a poultice or compress using a paste of fenugreek (methi) and rosemary leaves. Coarsely grind the leaves in a mortar and pestle. Add just enough warm water to make a thick paste. Take two strips of cotton gauge and place the paste between these. Wrap it up and place the compress on your affected breast for 20 minutes. The anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties of this compress are perfect to offer relief to cracked or sore nipples.
#5. Garlic pods
Consuming whole garlic pods everyday after breakfast can help provide antibacterial benefits that lend relief from mastitis.
#6. Cabbage leaves
Cabbage leaves are an age-old remedy for breast engorgement and mastitis. Simply insert a refrigerated cabbage leaf inside your bra for half an hour at least twice a day. It helps fight nipple infections as well.
#7. Saline or breast milk rinse
Rinsing the breast with saline water or breast milk after every feed, is a great way to prevent the growth of bacterial around the nipples. This is an easy remedy to treat as well as prevent mastitis.
#8. Use a hot towel wrap or warm compress
Place a warm compress over the inflamed area for 15-20 minutes at least thrice a day. This is best done between feeding intervals to help relieve the swelling and discomfort. You can alter between an warm and cold compress. The warm compress increases circulation while cold compress relieves pain.
Take as much rest as is possible and seek help from people around you. Rest enhances immunity to fight infection and reduces the body’s stress.
#10. Other tips
Some other steps that you can take are –
- Increased water intake can be helpful in the initial stages of this problem. If you are breastfeeding doctors might suggest a mild painkiller to provide relief from pain, as well as, fever. Such drugs are considered safe for the baby.
- Taking a hot water bath before feeding your baby also helps to relax the stressed ducts. It improves pain tolerance and eases the flow of milk through the ducts when the baby suckles.
- Massage with your hand over the inflamed area towards the nipple. Be gentle. This enhances circulation and helps provide pain relief.
- Do not put any pressure on the inflamed area. Prevent sleeping on your stomach. Also avoid letting the baby sleep on you.
- Avoid wearing tight clothes or carrying bags, which can compress breasts for a longer time.
- Avoid carrying the baby for longer durations against your chest. You can carry the baby in a back harness.
Read: 6 Effective Ways to Prevent Post Pregnancy Breast Sagging
Will Mastitis affect your baby?
Mastitis does not affect the baby although the milk supply is lowered for some period. When you have mastitis the taste of milk does alter a little and it becomes slightly salty. However, the baby’s stomach secretes acids that destroy any bacteria that the baby might ingest due to infective mastitis. That is why it is always better to continue feeding even when you have mastitis, as it is an effective way to treat the problem in the initial stages itself.
What are the best ways to nurse during Mastitis?
Nursing the baby when you are suffering from Mastitis is not easy. It can be very painful to feed and at the same time, there is a need to maintain the milk supply. Here is what you can do:
- As a precautionary measure, you can pump out and discard a few milliliters of milk first. This will help remove the stagnant milk in the ducts before you start feeding the baby.
- If the nipple is infected, do not let the baby latch onto that breast. Try to feed from the other side. Meanwhile, pump out milk from the other breast and follow the medication to overcome the infection as early as possible.
- Make sure the baby latches properly. This helps to avoid the recurrence of mastitis.
- If the problem is not too severe, it is best to feed from both sides to help in emptying breasts uniformly.
Also Read: These 8 Indian Kitchen Foods Can Help Breastfeeding Moms
What if Mastitis Recurs?
In case mastitis recurs it indicates an incomplete recovery from the initial problem. This can often be attributed to stress and fatigue. An untreated infection can lead to serious issues like an abscess and in some cases even cancer. A severe case of mastitis is treated with another round of antibiotics or surgery and aspiration if required. Mastitis is a simple issue that can be resolved by proper care and medication under the guidance of a medical expert. Therefore, never follow an incomplete course of antibiotics.
Following the preventive measures can avoid the chances of recurrence. Timely management is the best way to beat Mastitis.
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