What is lactation mastitis and why does it occur?
Mastitis usually occurs in breastfeeding (lactating) women, it is the inflammation of the breast tissue. Mastitis occurs in 1 in 10 breastfeeding women. There are two types of mastitis:
- Non-infectious – this is usually caused by blocked milk ducts causing milk to remain within the breast.
- Infectious – this is where a bacterial infection of the milk occurs.
If left untreated non-infectious mastitis can develop into infectious mastitis, where bacteria infects the milk which remains in the breast tissue. Treatment of mastitis is detailed below.
Symptoms of mastitis:
Most often mastitis affects one breast and symptoms can appear suddenly, symptoms include:
- Breast tenderness
- General malaise or feeling unwell
- Swelling of the breast
- Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
- Skin redness
- Fever (temperature of 38.3 degrees C or more)
- The affected breast can then start to appear lumpy and red
- Some women also experience flu-like symptoms such as aches, chills, fatigue and breast engorgement
Treatment of mastitis
What should you do if you suspect you have mastitis?
- Continue breast feeding – even though the symptoms of mastitis, mean that breast feeding may be unpleasant, it is important to continue as this will help to empty the remaining breast milk and reduce blockages.
- Hand express or use a pump – If your baby is not completing their feed it is important to ensure the remaining milk is expressed.
- See your doctor – In the case of infectious mastitis antibiotics are often required, it is important to see your doctor if you suspect you have mastitis, especially if you have a fever.
- Consult your physiotherapist – ultrasound therapy can be very successful at ‘unclogging’ blocked milk ducts. Your physiotherapist can also suggest self-massage techniques and breast-feeding positions that will most effectively clear the blocked ducts.
What can you do to prevent symptoms re-occurring?
- Ensure your baby completes their feed, if they are not feeding well hand or pump express any remaining breast milk.
- Check your breasts regularly, if you feel any lumps starting to occur gently massage the breast towards the nipple to encourage milk along the ducts