I have been breastfeeding for a little over 5 1/2 years straight. My two oldest children self weaned around 3 years of age. My baby is a year and still nursing all the time. You can read about my tandem nursing journey here. I have had mastitis 3 times so far, once with each baby. Mastitis is an inflammatory condition of the breast, which may or may not be accompanied by infection. It is most often seen in lactating mothers. Mastitis often develops during the first 3 months after giving birth, but it can occur up to 2 years later. Signs and symptoms of mastitis are breast tenderness, breast being warm to the touch, feeling ill, breast swelling, pain or burning sensation continuously or while breastfeeding, skin redness, fever. Mastitis typically occurs when a milk duct has been blocked, or when bacteria has entered the breast. My first case of mastitis was most likely from a blocked duct. My last case of mastitis was from breast injury. My sweet baby slammed into my breast in the worst way. This most likely caused a duct to become blocked. Fun times.
My first time having mastitis I did not catch it (or really know what it was) early enough and I ended up becoming very ill. I ended up needing antibiotics from my doctor. I can not remember feeling so sick, even when I had pneumonia. When I had mastitis I had a huge fever, 104 degrees, body aches, chills, throwing up. I was exhausted and my breast ached so bad. It was tender to the slightest touch. It felt like knives stabbing into my breast. It was terrible. On top of that, I had a baby to take care of! When I felt mastitis coming on again, with my second child, I knew I had to do whatever I could to keep it at bay, BEFORE I became ill. I did not want to have mastitis while having to care for two children!
When I first felt mastitis coming on again I immediately took action. I knew it was mastitis because my breast was tender and sore to the touch. It hurt when baby nursed from that breast and I was extremely tired. This lasted for half a day before I realized what was going on. When mastitis gets to be bad, you can see red lines running through your breast. I wanted to stop it and treat it before that point.
Here is how I treat mastitis at home:
- Rest! Lots and lots of rest. Sleep as much as you can. Sleep when baby sleeps, sleep when baby is awake. Get help. You need to sleep.
- Breastfeed! You might think you need to stop breastfeeding on the effected breast, but this is not true. The best way to help keep mastitis at bay is to nurse, nurse, nurse! I breastfeed on one breast per feeding. When I feel mastitis coming on, I nurse on the affected breast more often. Instead of switching every feeding, I feed on that breast twice. It looks like this- 9 am affected breast, 11 am affected breast, 1 pm non affected breast, 3 pm affected breast, 5 pm affected breast. If I know my baby is going to be suckling during sleep, I offer the affected breast. The point is to move the milk through, get the clogged duct to become unclogged. If you are unable to breastfeed, pump or hand express. Get as much milk out as possible.
- Heat is incredibly important. Take hot showers and massage the breast to express as much milk as you can. Use a warm, almost hot, wet washcloth on the breast as often as you can. The heat will help the clog to become unclogged. Again, the point is to get the milk moving to unclog the milk duct.
- While breastfeeding I will massage or press on the area that hurts. I do not press hard enough to cause pain. There is discomfort, yes, but not pain. I do this to try to help the clog move along and unclog the milk duct.
- Keep loose clothing on. Do not compress your breast. I tend to go braless while at home, and if I have to leave I wear a sleep bra and loose shirt so as not to compress my aching breast.
I do not like to use any medication while breastfeeding, which is why I try to make my mastitis go away at home. If these steps do not work after 48 hours, if you are not feeling any better, you do need to call your doctor. Antibiotics might be needed. The key ingredients to getting rid of mastitis are sleep and emptying the breast as often and as much as you can.
Please remember, I am not a medical doctor. These are the things I do to try to treat mastitis at home. If you have any questions or concerns, please speak with your medical provider.
This is a pretty good picture of what a breast with mastitis looks like. The red lines are a clear indicator of mastitis.