Breastfeeding mothers who have redness, pain or tenderness in their breast may have mastitis, an inflammation of breast tissue. Several factors can cause mastitis. Although it can be painful, the inflammation can be prevented and treated.
Other signs of mastitis include swelling and hardness in a localized area of the breast. Moms also may have fever, chills and body aches, since the inflammation can involve an infection.
What Causes Mastitis?
Mastitis starts when bacteria enters cracks or open sores on the nipples or when a breastfeeding mom goes a long period between feedings. Milk sitting in the breast can block or clog the milk ducts, leading to inflammation.
Other factors that can create mastitis include wearing a tightly fitting bra, lying in one position during sleep or trauma such as pressure from a seatbelt. Women may be more likely to develop mastitis if they are in poor health, stressed, not feeding the baby often enough, experiencing nipple trauma from feedings or using nipple creams, which can harbor bacteria that then enter the cracks in the nipple.
If you suspect you have mastitis, try to soak your breasts in warm water and massage the swollen area before each breastfeeding or pumping session. This will encourage the clogged milk duct to clear. An anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen can help with the discomfort.
Although you may be hesitant to breastfeed because you anticipate it could be painful, breastfeeding will help. Skipping a breastfeeding allows the milk to sit in your breasts longer, making clogged ducts more likely.
Instead of delaying feeding, feed your baby often, offering the sore breast first because the baby’s suck is stronger at the start of the feed. Massage the breast gently while feeding so the milk drains more efficiently.
If these measures don’t help, if the red areas get bigger or larger, or if you continue to feel sick, contact your OB/Midwife or go to the hospital in case you need antibiotics to address the infection. Left unattended, mastitis can lead to an abscess, which is a painful collection of pus that builds up in the breast.
Tips for Preventing Mastitis
- Use breastmilk instead of nipple creams to help heal cracked nipples.
- Feed your baby on demand, which helps the breast drain and keeps the milk flowing, preventing blocked milk ducts.
- If you are exclusively pumping, avoid going more than three hours between pump sessions.
- Make sure your bra is properly fitted for support. Avoid tight fitting bras or restrictive clothing in the breast area.
Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If you’re having difficulty breastfeeding, talk with a lactation consultant at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. Learn techniques that can help you feed your baby without having cracked nipples or the discomfort of infection. Our lactation consultants can help you and your baby improve latch and position—which can eliminate nipple problems. We also teach breast massage techniques as well as assess for the proper milk transfer from the breast to the baby.
Through in-hospital consultations for moms and their newborns, outpatient one-on-one consultations and our Mother/Baby Tea classes, we provide knowledge and support so you can learn to painlessly, successfully breastfeed your baby. You also can call our breastfeeding education center at (321) THE-BABY.
Learn More About Breastfeeding Support and Education for New Mothers
Breastfeeding is one of the most beneficial things a mother can do for her baby. But sometimes there are challenges for both baby and mom. That’s why Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies offers the Breastfeeding Education Center as a resource to support new mothers.Learn More