How to Spot and Stop Mastitis

Mastitis is a nursing mom’s nightmare. This sore and painful inflammation of the breast is caused by a blockage or the retention of milk in your milk ducts. Think of it like blocking or damming an entire river and all its outlets – it’s sure to cause lots of flooding.

The earlier you spot mastitis, the earlier you can take action to stop it. You certainly don’t want to leave it unaddressed because the longer you wait, the more painful and sore your breast will get.

To help you detect and treat this troubling condition, here’s how you can spot and stop mastitis:

15 Spot It: Tingling at the Nipple

Before all the other symptoms set in, mastitis often starts off with a tingling sensation in the nipple. You’re likely to feel this over one breast as mastitis rarely affects both breasts in one time.

Note that experiencing just tingling doesn’t necessarily mean that mastitis is setting in. The tingling sensation could be because of something else entirely. However, it is a sign that you may need to take a few extra measures to ensure that if it is mastitis, it gets stopped as soon as possible.

14 Spot It: Pain During Nursing

In many cases, the tingling sensation soon transforms into a sharp pain during breastfeeding. Some moms instead experience a burning sensation while feeding. This pain may be enough for the new mom to get put off of breastfeeding. However, as we’ll discuss later, it’s still important to continue.

Make sure, however, that the pain is not caused by a poor latch. A poor latch can, after all, hurt a lot, but is easily correctible by properly positioning.

13 Spot It: Breast Tenderness

You may begin to notice that a certain spot in the affected breast, or occasionally even the entire breast, feels tender and sore. This is because all the milk clogged in your breast’s milk ducts are beginning to exert so much pressure that nerve endings in your breast tissue are getting irritated. This tends to be much worse if the mastitis is caused by an infection, as your body’s inflammatory process can make things more intense. An infection also results in the accumulation of pus and fluids within the clogged duct, adding to the pressure.

12 Spot It: Warm to Touch

As milk builds up in the duct, the area becomes more and more irritated. Blood flow will increase to the affected area, in your body’s attempt to solve the problem. Because of this, the affected breast may feel warmer than usual to the touch. This warmth may be more pronounced over where the clogged milk duct is located.

11 Spot It: Wedge-Shaped Redness

Later on, you may be able to see a wedge-shaped redness over the affected milk duct. This is because the milk-producing mammary glands are arranged in a concentric manner over your breasts with the milk ducts that carry milk towards the nipple. In many cases, the clogged milk will back up towards the mammary glands resulting in redness and swelling over that area, as well as over the smaller milk ducts. This configuration results in the wedge shape.

However, some moms may experience redness over an entire portion of the breast or just over the nipple.

10 Spot It: Nipple Discharge

In some cases, you may be able to see a decidedly non-milk discharge coming out of your nipple. This is usually a sticky discharge that can either be clear or whitish. In some cases, it may contain streaks of blood. In some cases, this discharge will be streaked into the milk.

If you’re breastfeeding, don’t worry about this discharge harming your baby. It may make your milk taste a little bit different. However, other than that, it’s relatively harmless. Even if your mastitis is caused by bacteria, your body will have fought them enough to dwindle down their ranks. In addition, they will die right away when they come in contact with your baby’s stomach acid.

9 Spot It: Flu-Like Symptoms

Before redness and irritation is visible on your breast, however, you may begin to feel flu-like symptoms. You may feel that you’re getting tired way too easily and your joints may begin to ache. If the mastitis is caused by an infection, you may experience fever and chills.

In the beginning, you may not know, exactly, what’s causing these symptoms. It could, after all, be actual flu or perhaps even a stomach bug. But when the breast-specific symptoms begin to appear, you can be pretty sure it was due to mastitis.

8 Stop It: An Important Note

When you suspect you have mastitis, you may want to see a doctor right away. Depending on the cause of the inflammation, your doctor may or may not prescribe antibiotics. She may also prescribe a pain reliever. We’re also going to post additional advice to help halt mastitis later in this article.

We’d just like to note here that if your symptoms persist for more than a month even with treatment, you may want to see your doctor again. This is because a rare type of cancer called inflammatory breast cancer has symptoms that mimic that of mastitis. Your doctor may want to check for this if your symptoms are prolonged. This is especially if the appearance of your beast is changing drastically, such as with unusual bruising, dimpling or deformity.

7 Stop It: Avoid Tight Clothes

Lactation is probably not the best time for tight clothes and, most especially, tight bras. These articles of clothing can compress your breast and, therefore, the milk ducts inside of them. When milk ducts are constricted, you are at a greater risk for getting them clogged, which may result in mastitis especially if you wear them for long periods of time every day.

Fortunately for us, maternity wear is now no longer restricted to loose blobs of clothing. Although, to be honest we certainly won’t blame you if you prefer wearing those at this time! There are now plenty of stylish clothing options that make you look great without compressing your breasts.

6 Stop It: Don’t Sleep on Your Tummy

Stomach sleepers beware! Sleeping on your tummy will naturally result in plenty of pressure on your breast. If you maintain this position through the night, or if you do it frequently, your risk of getting mastitis increases. This isn’t limited only to stomach sleepers, however. If you like to lie on your side, the side that you favor may be at increased risk of developing mastitis as well.

It’s best if you lie on your back or, if you can, change positions frequently during the night to avoid additional strain on your breasts.

5 Stop It: Breastfeed Regularly

It may be painful and it may be uncomfortable but ultimately, breastfeeding regularly will help prevent mastitis. If you need antibiotics, your doctor will most likely have prescribed one that is safe for breastfeeding. Draining your breasts regularly will help keep everything flowing until your ducts become unclogged. Usually, breastfeeding at your baby’s demand is the best way to go. For most moms, this is usually about every two to three hours.

However, because of the inflammatory process going on in your breast, your breastmilk may taste a bit saltier than usual.

4 Stop It: Pump If You Can’t Feed

If you cannot breastfeed, however, perhaps because you have to go to work or you intend to wean your baby early, you may want to pump your milk out instead. Keeping things flowing will help you recover early.

If you have to be away from your baby for long periods of time, bring along a good pump and use it about every two to three hours, mimicking your baby’s demand for milk. If you wanted to dry up your milk, it’s best to keep pumping during this period anyway until the mastitis has subsided.

3 Stop It: Breast Massage

One thing that can help relieve you of mastitis is breast massage. Massage on the affected area with as much pressure as is comfortable. Make sure that you stroke from the outer rim of your breast towards your nipple, essentially stroking the milk out of your breast. This is to ensure that you don’t push all the milk back into your mammary gland, exacerbating the clogging.

2 Stop It: Get Some Rest

Mastitis will not make you feel well at all, with all the aches and pains, and the weakness and the fever. Ultimately, however, it’s just your body’s way of telling you that you need to slow down right now. Combating an infection requires plenty of energy. Doing other things will only make you feel more tired than usual.

If you can, take time off work. Stay in bed and read, watch movies or just sleep for most of the day. Get out of bed to stretch out your muscles or, perhaps, do a few chores if you feel like it. But, for the most part, just rest it out.

1 Stop It: Warmth

Another great way to relieve mastitis is through applying a warm compress or soaking your breast in warm water. You can do this in combination with a breast massage, or use each alternately before each feeding. Warm water can help loosen up any clogs in your breast by dilating the milk duct and loosening any milk solids clogged up in there.

With a bit of patience, your mastitis should clear up in a week or two. Even after it has cleared, you may still find it useful to continue following the advice listed here to avoid another recurrence. After all, mastitis is pretty painful although it is certainly manageable. Once you’ve had it, you’re certainly not going to want to experience it again!

More in Did You Know...