What Is Mastitis?
If you’re experiencing pain, redness, warmth, and swelling of your breasts, you may have mastitis, which is a condition that is usually caused by an infection1. While most common in breastfeeding moms typically in the first 6 to 12 weeks, mastitis has been known to occur in non-breastfeeding women as well as men.
Thankfully, there are many mastitis treatment options that don’t require a call to the doctor, although if you’re concerned about any symptoms, it’s always a good idea to pick up the phone and get some sound advice.
What Does Mastitis Look Like?
Your body—especially your breasts—undergoes a lot of changes during and after pregnancy, so it may be hard to pinpoint whether or not you have mastitis. Some common symptoms of mastitis include:
- Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
- Breast swelling
- Thickening of breast tissue, or a breast lump
- Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
- Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
- Generally feeling ill
- Fever of 101° F (38.3° C) or greater
Some people with mastitis can also experience nausea, vomiting, or nipple discharge, and typically the condition affects one breast at a time. It’s also important to note that mastitis symptoms don’t typically appear gradually but rather come on suddenly, which can understandably cause confusion or concern.
What Causes Mastitis & What Are The Risk Factors?
Mastitis doesn’t only affect breast-feeding moms, which suggests it’s not caused by breast feeding per se, although breast feeding certainly creates conditions that are more conducive to mastitis development. Indeed, it is usually attributed to bacteria on the skin or your baby’s mouth that’s transmitted through a nipple crack or milk duct opening. Milk trapped in your breast due to a clogged milk duct or poor breastfeeding technique could also lead to infection.
Risk factors that make one more susceptible to mastitis include:
- Sore or cracked nipples
- Using only one position to breastfeed, which inhibits full drainage
- Reducing milk flow through a tight-fitting bra or undue breast pressure
- Having had mastitis before
- Skipping or postponing breastfeeding or pumping
- Poor diet
What's The Difference Between Mastitis & A Blocked Milk Duct?
While mastitis can be caused by a blocked milk duct, they’re not the same thing. Here are the similarities and differences between a blocked milk duct and mastitis2:
- May be caused by poor latching during feeding or expressing breast milk
- Breast redness, tenderness or hardness, and pain that may or may not be centered around a lump
- Can be accompanied by a low-grade fever
- Milk supply may be temporarily affected, and may contain thickened or fatty-looking milk
- Blocked milked ducts are only blockages; mastitis may develop from a clogged milk duct, an allergic reaction, or an infection
- Red streaks may radiate from the affected area (a common sign of infection) when mastitis is the culprit
- Blocked milk ducts are not caused by skin damage, poor health, or poor hygiene
What Are Treatment Options For Mastitis?
While mastitis can go away on its own, there are mastitis home remedies that are recommended to expedite healing and prevent further infection.
Mastitis Prevention Tips
Tips to prevent mastitis include:
- Ensure baby latches correctly when breastfeeding
- Fully empty the breast when feeding or expressing milk
- Change baby’s feeding position to ensure different areas of the breast are drained
- Avoid going an extended period of time between feedings or fully expressing
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach
- Allow your nipples to air out between feedings, when possible
Mastitis Treatment & Symptom Relief Options
Treating mastitis and reducing the pain and discomfort caused by mastitis symptoms may include2,3:
- Empty the affected breast often, at least every two hours, whether feeding or expressing
- Proper rest and hydration
- Over-the-counter medications to treat fever, pain, or inflammation
- Applying a warm compress before breastfeeding and/or for 15 minutes, three times a day, coupled with gentle massage of the affected breast
- Massage the affected breast in a warm shower
- Antibiotics from your doctor
Supplementing Breast Milk During & After Mastitis
While it is safe to continue breastfeeding while you have mastitis—completely draining the breast can actually help relieve mastitis symptoms—your milk production may decrease during and after infection. If you haven’t already been supplementing your milk supply with formula, now may be the time to consider doing so.
Choosing a formula with lactoferrin that matches the nutritional makeup of breast milk—such as Enfamil Enspire—is an important first step. You can also ensure that you and baby can continue to use feeding time as an important opportunity to bond.