When Breastfeeding Hurts: How to Prevent Mastitis

how your body tells you that it's time to slow down
mastitis managed
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / halfpoint

One of the not-so-pleasant arrivals that often appear in motherhood is mastitis, an inflammation in the breast caused by a blocked milk duct. It can lead to painful engorgement, redness, and if left unattended, infection. Mastitis is common and can result from less frequent feeding due to a taxing lifestyle, diminished self-care, illness, or changes such as teething or shorter periods of feeding, causing the breast not to be emptied and milk to back-up.

The warning signs are obvious, so make sure you don’t ignore them! Symptoms include sudden local inflammation in the form of a hard, red knot on the breast or a streaky red area that causes severe discomfort, fever, chills, malaise, dizziness, nausea, and flu-like symptoms. The area may feel sore or bruised for several days and may recur if you are run down, malnourished, or dehydrated. Left untreated, mastitis can lead to a breast abscess and the infection can spread, becoming a more serious systemic infection.

Common Causes of Mastitis

  • Sleeping on the breast when it’s too full or wearing a bra that fits a little too snug
  • Overexertion
  • Not emptying the breasts sufficiently while nursing
  • Sleep deprivation leading to lowered immunity and raised susceptibility to infection
  • Inadequate hydration and/or nourishment

Mastitis is a sign that a mama is doing too much and not resting or taking care of herself. It’s the body’s way of saying, “Slow down and pay attention to me!” At the first signs of mastitis, stop everything, take off your bra, put on loose, comfortable clothes, get into bed with your baby and nurse, skin-to-skin, while drinking some soothing, nourishing bone broth or hot tea. And, not to worry: the breast infection is local to you and cannot be transferred via your breastmilk, so keep nursing!

Rest!

As hard as it sometimes is, let those dishes stay dirty and that laundry remain unwashed. These are the perfect tasks to assign to friends and family who want to help.

Drink!

Allow yourself a full glass of water or herbal tea every hour. Catnip tea is a good one, and bone broths and miso soup have the added benefit of being incredibly nourishing.

Nurse!

Resist the urge to avoid nursing on the affected breast, as the engorgement will increase and make the problem worse. Position your baby’s chin toward the lump and gently massage the breast as baby feeds. With fingertip pressure only, roll, knead or tap your breast from the largest part towards the areola to encourage good flow. 

Heat!

Hot water or compresses can stimulate circulation and ease the tight tissues stretching over the blocked duct. Frequent, short applications of heat can help resolve the issue quickly. While showering, use a wide-toothed comb to rake your breast toward the areola, stopping before the nipple. The combination of heat and movement will help to melt the blockage.

Supplemental Supports

Echinacea is considered nature's antibiotic and is an effective immune booster.

  • Dose: 1 tsp of tincture every 2–4 waking hours until 24 hours after symptoms resolve

Propolis is very safe and accelerates healing time.

  • Dose: 10–15 drops daily (also available in spray format) 

Vitamin C is a great infection-fighter and first line of defense.

  • Dose: 2000 mg, twice daily

Lecithin helps break up blockages, thinning the milk and allowing it to more easily pass through ducts.

  • Dose: 1200 mg, 4 times a day until issue is resolved. 

Remember: make sure to rest, hydrate, nourish, and nurse! The focus should be on you and the baby first, not tidying or others’ expectations. If you develop a fever, make sure to consult with your healthcare provider. You got this, mama!

You may also enjoy: Natural Ways to Increase Breast Milk Supply and Breastfeeding Diet Dos and Don’ts

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