How to Know You Have Mastitis

Let’s be real, breastfeeding can be uncomfortable. With all the different information out there, it can be hard to know what discomfort is normal and when you should be concerned. When you’re in pain and looking for an answer, sifting through the internet to find out what’s wrong can lead to more frustration and confusion. To make things easier, we did it for you! We searched for evidence based ways to know if you have mastitis so that if the time comes, all of the information is at your fingertips. 

What is mastitis … ?

Before describing how to know if you have it, let’s talk about what mastitis actually is! The National Institutes of Health defines mastitis as inflammation in the breast that may or may not be accompanied by infection1. It’s a fairly common condition that typically presents in people who are nursing, affecting up to one third of breastfeeding women each year. It is possible to develop even when not breastfeeding, although this is much rarer. It is most likely to develop in the first few weeks after giving birth and the likelihood decreases as time goes on. Mastitis, when left untreated, can result in the formation of an abscess. Early detection and treatment of mastitis is important for avoiding further infection and side effects. 

We asked one of our OB/GYN advisors for a summary on this condition and any recommendations she may have.

“Mastitis is an infection of the breast that requires medical treatment. Women may notice that
one breast if red, swollen, painful, and has a lower milk supply. Women can also have fevers,
chills, and body aches. The treatment for mastitis is antibiotics and continued emptying of the
breast through feeding or pumping. The important thing to know is that feeding your baby is
safe and encouraged even while taking the antibiotics to treat mastitis.” – Dr. Katie Ruymann

What causes mastitis … 

There are three main causes of mastitis2.

  1. Milk trapped in the breast
  2. A milk duct is blocked
  3. Bacteria entering the breast

The first cause, milk being trapped in the breast, is the most common cause of lactation related mastitis. When a milk duct becomes blocked, the milk gets backed up and causes an infection. When milk is not fully emptied from the breast, it is more likely to breed bacteria. Bacteria on your chest or your baby can enter your breast and infect the tissue. There are many risk factors that can help lead to mastitis. A few of them are previous infections in the breast, cracked nipples, tight-fitting bras or pressure on the breast that restricts flow, as well as smoking, increased stress, and inefficient nutrition2

What are the common symptoms … ?

Mastitis can appear quickly and knowing the symptoms can help you to treat it fast and avoid further complications. The most common symptoms associated with it include … 

If you are experiencing these symptoms while breastfeeding, mastitis is a possible diagnosis. Contacting a healthcare professional to get a second opinion and treatment options is the next step. Never hesitate to talk to an IBCLC, Ob/Gyn, or other care professional if you have any concerns.

How can mastitis be treated … ?

The main treatment of mastitis includes antibiotics and over the counter pain relievers3. Antibiotics are only used when mastitis is accompanied by an infection, which is not always the case. It’s important to note that it is still safe to breastfeed during this time, and weaning might even worsen the symptoms. If you are worried about the recurrence of mastitis, talking to a certified lactation consultant can help prevent it! While this breastfeeding complication is uncomfortable, it is common and is not a reflection on your breastfeeding success. Consult a medical professional if you have any questions or concerns!

Resources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6092150/
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mastitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20374829
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mastitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20374834

Claire Dowell