I’ve experienced my fair share of breastfeeding issues, like latching problems, having thrush, pumping 24/7 to maintain supply when my second baby was eating through an NG tube after his lung surgery. But everything has been easier with my third baby and for the most part, nursing has been a breeze.
Still, even with this baby, I have come very close to having mastitis twice.
I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV. This post is for informational purposes only and should not replace sound medical care and advice from your doctor.
Mastitis is a breast infection and is extremely painful. It leads to swelling, warmth, redness, and often fever. The symptoms are flu-like: fever, chills, achiness, and exhaustion. One friend tells me that she knew something was wrong when she could not pick up her newborn. She was too weak.
Both times, I caught it in the early stages, before fever, when it was likely just a clogged duct or very early mastitis. Had we not caught it early, it would’ve gotten bad quickly, and I would’ve needed antibiotics to cure the infection.
What Caused it?
The first time, my baby was a few weeks old and suddenly, he started sleeping longer and nursing less frequently–from every 1 1/2 hours to sometimes three hours. The second time, more recently, my baby was 8 weeks old and ate less frequently because of a long car trip. Both times, one common denominator was fatigue.
How Did I Recognize it?
The first time, I realized that I was suddenly extremely exhausted, more so than usual, and that I had quite a bit of pain in only one breast. I think I caught it even earlier the second time, so I was only experiencing significant pain, without fatigue, and still without fever and chills. There was no redness, but I did feel a lump.
I contacted a few friends who had dealt with mastitis to find out if this was it and get their advice. Their suggestions worked and form the basis of my mastitis tips. Thanks girls!
If you are in extreme pain, see redness or streaking, or have a fever, please call your doctor and get antibiotics. It can come on suddenly, and mastitis is nothing to play around with. If it’s milder or still at the clogged duct stage, you can try several things to hopefully prevent it from getting worse. But please know that no website or blog can take the place of good medical advice, so call your doctor if you’re concerned.
Rest and Hydration
Drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest. Stay in bed with the baby nearby, along with plenty of water. Let the kids watch too many videos or ask your husband to take off work. It’s that important.
Think moist heat, like hot showers, a moist wash cloth with a heating pad over it, or even one of these nifty things:
I bought these hot and cold gel packs by Gerber when I was pregnant with my first child, but this is the first time I’ve needed them. I’ve never had pain with engorgement, blocked ducts, or mastitis until this baby. I loved these heating pads and found them to be extremely helpful.
Don’t use the gel packs cold prior to nursing. In fact, you may not want to use cold gel packs at all if you’ve got mastitis or a clogged duct. Cold restricts flow and heat helps the milk to flow, and with mastitis, you need your milk to flow, flow, flow, so warmth is is important.
While showering, nursing, or prior to nursing, massage the blocked duct to get milk flowing well through the affected area. This will help loosen clogged ducts and get the milk flowing.
No matter how much it hurts, you’ve got to get the milk out. A pump is great, but not nearly as effective as baby at removing milk. Feed the baby often and focus on the affected breast first. Don’t completely neglect the other one or you’ll have double trouble. After nursing, you can pump to remove the remaining milk.
You can also vary your nursing positions to help empty out the breasts completely, if your baby will allow it. My little ones tend to be picky about how they’re nursed, especially in the early weeks, when mastitis is more likely to occur. But if you can, give different positions a try. Make sure your clothing isn’t too restrictive, and go bra-less if possible, or wear a loose fitting sleep bra if you need to wear nursing pads.
Whatever you do, don’t quit nursing because of mastitis. Like all nursing issues, it can be worked through, and weaning can make matters far worse.
Have you had any experiences with mastitis? Did you require antibiotics? What did you do to heal the infection? I’d love to hear your experiences.