What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is a condition where one or both of your breasts become swollen, red, sore, hot, lumpy and often painful to touch.
It is more commonly found in just one breast, although both breasts can be affected at the same time. It can also be anywhere in the breast, but mainly develops in the upper areas.
Mastitis can sometimes occur during the time that you are breastfeeding as a result of your breast milk leaking into your breast tissue, and the cause is usually a blocked milk duct. Your body then has an inflammatory reaction, as it believes this milk is potentially an infection risk to you. If you have mastitis, you may start to feel unwell, almost flu-like, with a raised temperature, shivering and tiredness.
Having mastitis does not necessarily mean that there is any infection present. If caught early and acted upon quickly, with simple self-help techniques to treat mastitis at home, it can often be resolved without the help of antibiotics.
Here are some ideas to try to prevent mastitis whilst breastfeeding:
- Make sure your baby is latching and attaching well at the breast to help your breast milk to flow freely.
- Try not to suddenly cut down on feeds or abruptly start to go longer in between feeding your baby.
- Breastfeeding regularly and often will prevent your breasts from becoming overfull.
- Make sure your bras and clothing are not too tight and squeezing your breasts in any places.
- Try to avoid pressing or holding your breasts tightly when feeding, as this may not allow breast milk to flow as freely.
- Ask friends and family to help out more, for example, by entertaining other children and doing household chores if possible. This will help prevent you from becoming stressed and tired, enabling you to focus on feeding your baby, look after yourself and feel better.
What can I do to help myself if I have mastitis?
- You may be feeling tired and ill, but the best way to help clear blocked milk ducts is to continue to breastfeed. It is not harmful to your baby to breastfeed with mastitis.
- Express breast milk if your breasts feel uncomfortable, even if your baby has already just breastfed.
- Seek help from a local breastfeeding support group, as they have volunteers and a lactation consultant can provide help and breastfeeding support.
- Soaking in the bath or having a warm shower prior to feeding can help with your milk flow and allow your breast to empty more easily.
- Try different positions to feed your baby, to ensure your milk is flowing as easily as possible.
- If just one breast is affected, offer that breast first to your baby, to enable good drainage of breast milk.
- Do be aware that any surgery to the breast, such as reduction, augmentation or the removal of lumps or cysts, may increase the chances of you developing mastitis. You may be developing mastitis if your breast starts to feel hot, sore or lumpy.
- Contact your health visitor or GP if your mastitis isn’t easing or continues to reoccur, as you can also have more than one episode of mastitis when breastfeeding.
For more advice and support on all things breastfeeding, check out our dedicated page on Helping you on your breastfeeding journey.