As a first time mom I had mastitis 3 times. I really wish I would have known how to avoid mastitis. It was horrible every time. My breast hurt, I felt like I had the flu, and I had to get better because I had used all my sick days for maternity leave. I was trying to balance this new life back to work full time, breastfeeding, and being a new mom. It was not easy. If you have it you are not alone. About 20% of mothers will experience mastitis postpartum, and it is most common in the first 4 months.
Mastitis is horribly uncomfortable and can cause fevers, body aches, and chills. The last thing you need when you are sleep deprived and caring for a new baby is an episode of mastitis. So how can you avoid mastitis? That’s a great question! Lets dig into the research and determine what steps you can take to decreases your chances of ending up with one or more episodes of mastitis.
Table of Contents
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is generally an abrupt onset of inflammation of the breast tissue, with or without infection. It can be one sided or (very rarely) both breasts at one time. It can occur any time while breastfeeding, but it more typical in the first few months postpartum.
Symptoms typically include:
- Breast tenderness
- Breast Engorgement
- Redness, swelling, and warmth
- Moderate to severe flu-like muscle aches and chills
What are Common Risk Factors to Avoid Mastitis?
Several studies reviewed the common risk factors that can lead to developing mastitis. Most were reported by women through a survey as most episodes occur at home while no longer in the hospital setting.
- Previous history of Mastitis with same child or previous child (one of the biggest indicators)
- Clogged/blocked duct
- Cracked or sore nipples
- Sudden change in number of feedings
- Infection in the family
- Use of cream on nipples
- Always starting with the alternate breast on consecutive feeds
- Poor diet
Some of these risk factors like avoiding stress and fatigue may be really difficult. I totally understand. You have a brand new baby and life still goes on. I know you aren’t sleeping. Just know there are many resources available to you if you need it. Most of the time its just a temporary need so don’t feel bad asking for help. “It takes a village,” remember!
Tips to Avoid Mastitis
So you’re stressed about breastfeeding (it’s not going the way that you were hoping), you are going back to work, your nipples are hurting and cracking, your baby is going longer periods of time between feeds, or isn’t emptying your breasts anymore what do you do? Reach out to a local lactation consultant. They are an amazing source of information. They can help you trouble shoot your specific problems. If a lactation consultant isn’t an option check out a la leche league near you. These groups are great to speak with fellow nursing mothers and leaders who are trained to help with these exact issues.
If you aren’t getting enough sleep and feel like you need more support at home. Consider reaching out to family/friends or even hiring a postpartum doula (some insurance companies may cover this cost). You may only need the extra help for a short period of time.
If you are experiencing general stress and anxiety related to new changes or other factors in your life. Consider incorporating meditation to your daily life. Even 5 minutes a day can have a positive impact on your overall stress levels.
If your other family members have an infection they are passing around. Increase your vigilance with your hand hygiene and clean surfaces in your home to prevent the spread of bacteria. This should also be considered if choosing to use nipple cream. Always make sure you are using clean hands to apply the cream to your nipples.
If you notice you are developing a clogged or blocked duct. Apply wet or dry heat to the area prior to feeding and massage the breast tissue while feeding. Feed your baby on the affected side frequently and try alternating feeding positions to loosen up the clogged area. One method that can be helpful is to lay your baby flat on the ground and dangle your breast above. Avoid any tight clothing or underwire. It may also be best to go braless if possible. Make sure you breasts feel soft after a feeding. The breast should be drained. If needed hand express or use a breast pump to empty your breast.
If you know what to look for you can get ahead of things before they get worse. In order to avoid mastitis try to control your stress, prevent cracking/painful nipples, engorgement, and use the techniques discussed to adjust to sudden changes in your child’s feedings. You have resources around you to help, even if you might not see them. Educate yourself and find other women that can support you on your breastfeeding endeavor.
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.