There are many benefits of breastfeeding as breast milk provides the best nutrition for a baby, containing antibodies to help the baby fight off infection and can act as a great bonding experience for mother and baby. However, there are some ailments for a new mum to be aware of, particularly soreness around the breast which can be linked to Mastitis. While breastfeeding is not the only cause of mastitis it is one of the most common.
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis can be identified by pain and inflammation in a woman’s breast tissue. It generally occurs whilst breastfeeding with women being particularly prone during the first few months after childbirth.
Why does Mastitis Occur?
There are several factors which may cause mastitis, however, it is most common in women who are breastfeeding and is generally identified as puerperal (post-natal) mastitis. In this case, it is most likely due to milk not being properly removed from the breast, which could be caused by the following factors:
– The baby may not be attaching well to the breast when feeding, meaning that less milk is removed
– The baby is having trouble sucking (this may be due to a tongue tie)
– Less frequent feeding (particularly common when babies start to sleep through the night)
– The baby having a preference for one breast
– Any injury to the breast
– Pressure on the breast (for example, due to tight clothing)
All of these factors can lead to milk stasis, where the milk remains in the breast tissue, which in turn can cause inflammation in the breast. While breast milk is not an environment typically favoured by bacteria, when it remains in the breast for a prolonged period of time it can stagnate and become infected. The infecting bacteria can be introduced from your own skin or the baby’s mouth. You are more likely to get an infection in your breast if you have nipple damage, this is known as infective mastitis.
If it is not due to breastfeeding, mastitis is usually caused by infection and is referred to as periductal mastitis. This generally occurs when bacteria is introduced to the breast through cracked or sore nipples or a nipple piercing. The most common group to be affected by this form of mastitis are women in their late 20s and early 30s. It is also more prevalent amongst women who smoke.
Mastitis can also occur as a result of Duct Ectasia. This is when the milk ducts around the nipple become shorter and wider, which generally occurs when women approach menopause. While Duct Ectasia is not concerning in itself, it can increase the risk of mastitis.
What are the Symptoms of Mastitis?
The symptoms of mastitis generally occur in only one breast and they may develop quickly. The main symptoms include:
– Redness or swelling on the breast, which can feel hot and painful when to touch
– A lump or hardened area in the breast
– Pain in the breast, particularly a burning sensation (this may be constant or only when breastfeeding)
– Discharge from the nipple (this may be white or contain blood)
Some people also experience flu-like symptoms such as aches and pains, a temperature, shivers and fatigue.
What Can be Done for My Mastitis?
If a doctor believes that the mastitis is due to an infection they recommend antibiotics. However, because many cases of mastitis aren’t caused by infection they cannot be treated by medication, despite this there are some steps you can take to ease the symptoms:
– Getting lots of rest!
– Drinking plenty of fluids
– Taking over the counter painkillers
– Avoid tight clothing, including bras, until your symptoms reduce
– if you are breastfeeding, expressing your breast milk regularly can help
– Placing a warm compress over your breasts
– Taking a warm bath/shower
If you believe you are suffering from mastitis, visit your local GP to identify the potential causes and the best course of action to ease your symptoms.
Dr Seth Rankin is founder of London Doctors Clinic