Causes and Symptoms of Mastitis

mother Breast feeding baby

The good news is that babies do not suffer from mastitis and the antibacterial properties in breastmilk actually help protect them from the bacteria (so keep nursing or pumping through your mastitis!).

Swift evaluation and treatment will make a world of difference. And taking good care of yourself is key for both recovery and prevention. Read on for what to look out for when it comes to mastitis.

What causes Mastitis?

Sometimes simply being new to breastfeeding can bring on mastitis, as it most commonly occurs in the first 12 weeks of nursing. But it can also occur to any breastfeeding mom throughout the months or years she breastfeeds.

Sore and cracked nipples (which allow bacteria to enter your system), poor nutrition and fatigue (both of which can impede your immune response to bacteria) and restricted milk flow may all cause mastitis at any time.

Milk flow can be restricted for a number of reasons:
  • Relying exclusively on one feeding position may hamper milk flow whereas changing positions can help insure full draining of each breast
  • Tight bras or clothing or other consistent pressure (like from a bag strap or seatbelt) may restrict milk flow
  • Skipping feedings, missed feedings or a strict feeding schedule may inhibit your milk production and thus flow
  • A baby’s sub-optimal latch or suck when feeding can reduce the effective flow of milk

Read Breastfeeding Basics 101: Learning an Effective Latch and Breastfeeding Basics 101: Positioning for help with your breastfeeding technique to prevent these issues and keep the milk flowing.

Symptoms of Mastitis

Common symptoms include:
  • Lump in one area of the breast or noticeable hardness (often in a wedge-like pattern) of the whole breast
  • A breast that feels warm or hot to the touch
  • A breast that is red with possible red streaks extending outward from the affected area (1)
  • Flu-like symptoms including fever (101 degrees F or more), chills and general malaise
  • Single-sided symptoms (although you can get mastitis in both breasts at the same time, it usually occurs in one breast at a time)
Recurrent Mastitis

While recurrent mastitis is rare, it can still happen. Inadequate treatment of a previous mastitis infection, a history of plugged ducts, poor milk drainage, nipple problems (thrush, cracks, milk blisters) or a consistent lack of good nutrition and adequate sleep may put you at risk.

Mastitis v. Plugged Ducts

Mastitis and a plugged duct are not the same. A plugged duct is a backup of milk in one (or a few) ducts in your breast. The plugged area may feel sore or like a “pea” or a hard spot.

You should not be experiencing the warmth or flu-like symptoms that accompany mastitis. With some massage and continued feedings, the plugged duct(s) will usually clear on their own. Persistent plugged ducts can lead to mastitis so do manage them proactively.

What to Do

Call your healthcare provider immediately if you believe you have mastitis

And always consult with a healthcare professional before trying alternative treatments

Seek out a lactation consultant

A lactation consultant (available to chat live on can help determine the contributing factors for developing mastitis and come up with a plan to minimize them and help prevent recurrence.

But unfortunately, even if you do everything “right”, know that mastitis can happen. Do your best to not miss a feed and like always, be sure to eat a healthful diet, drink plenty of fluids and get some rest.

Continue to breastfeed or pump

Keep the milk flowing while you take care of yourself. And massage the affected area by stroking your breast towards the nipple while you are breastfeeding or pumping.

Take care of yourself

In order to be the best caregiver possible and continue to use your body to nourish your baby, you need to make sure that you’re giving your body what it needs. This is especially important during times of illness, but also essential during times of wellness so that you are more likely to stay well.

  • Get plenty of rest – Finding time to relax with a baby isn’t easy, but ask your partner, family and friends for help, whether to watch the baby while you rest or to help you with any manner of to-do’s so that you can sleep when the baby does.
  • Stay hydrated – Remember that breastfeeding women should drink at least thirteen 8oz cups of fluids daily, and even more with a diet low in fruits and vegetables (because they are naturally high in water).
  • Make healthy dietary choices – Emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, beans, nuts and seeds. You can discuss further with a Happy Family Coach about ways to make sure that you’re getting the most from your dietary choices.

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