Breastfeeding is one of the most natural and beautiful aspects of having your baby, but like so many things, some people find it easier than others. One common problem is mastitis, which can occur at any stage of breast feeding.
Symptoms: A red, hot, painful area on the affected breast, a lump in the breast, pain and flu-like symptoms – going hot and cold, feeling tired, nauseous and shivery.
Causes: It is caused by breast milk leaking into the breast tissue. This may be due to infection or blocked ducts. Blocked ducts may be caused by engorgement, the breast not emptying during as feed or pressure from clothing such as an ill fitting bra. I definitely had it at least once after sleeping in my bra.
What to Do: Since the breast will be painful and may be engorged, try to feed on that side and massage any lump whilst feeding. From my own experience this does help. If you cannot feed your baby you could try to express from the affected side (assuming you are well enough to cope with assembling the breast pump of course!).
Pain Relief: You could take any breastfeeding-safe painkillers such a paracetamol, however if you are trying to avoid taking drugs whilst breast feeding you can get quite a bit of relief from applying something cold to the red area. Frozen cabbage leaves really do work, many people have told me! I used frozen peas but remember if you use something frozen to wrap it in a cloth, you don’t need a cold burn on top of everything else.
If you have repeated bouts of Mastitis: Visit your midwife, health visitor or doctor to discuss whether there is an infection. You may need a course of antibiotics.
Katie from West Sussex had Mastitis 17 times while breast feeding her third child, having had no problems with the first two. “When I got it I tried to feed on that side repeatedly (although sometimes that gave me mastitis on the other side), gently massaging to try to clear the blockage. Eventually, on about the 15th time, when the pain got too much to bear, I got some antibiotics. These abated it for a while, but then it came back, and I had to have a two week course of antibiotics. That worked!”
I had it three times with my first baby, who was a restless feeder who rarely emptied a breast. I was ticked off each time by my Health Visitor for not coming in for antibiotics, but I always seemed to get it when the surgery wasn’t open for three days, like over Easter!
Katie was advised to “Always try to clear it yourself without antibiotics, which I did, but I can't help thinking that it could have been the same problem recurring each time, and if I had got antibiotics earlier I wouldn't have suffered so much.”
You should always see your doctor, midwife or health visitor if you have any concerns about mastitis or any other issue about feeding your baby.
Yu can find more information about mastitis at NHS Direct.
About The Author: Jacqui O'Brien is the editor of eParenting.