Dealing with Mastitis

For the breastfeeding mom, mastitis is a common infection that can hurt like the dickens and be quite discouraging if you don't nip it in the bud. Additionally, if not dealt with quickly, your nipples may crack and bleed, which only exacerbates the pain that was felt from the actual infection & inflammation.

With my first baby (born 9 years ago today!), he got out of the hospital on day 7 (he had been in the NICU w/ pneumonia), and I had mastitis from when he was 8 days old all the way past when he was one month old. It was horrible. I remember sitting down to nurse Ethan, and crying every time because the pain was so bad. It was near-constant pain, and the latch-on and nursing process only intensified it. I have had mastitis with every single baby we've had, but never as bad as with Ethan because I learned what helps and have worked very hard in subsequent times to nip it in the bud right away.

So if you're facing mastitis, I probably know what you're feeling. It hurts, and it's discouraging. But you can treat it and help it go away, and if you press through, you will reap the benefits of your own tenacity & endurance, and be able to go on to a successful breastfeeding relationship!

Let me share with you what helps me:
  • Use hot compresses-- just before, and just after nursing, for about 20 minutes each time. What I do for that is a near-scalding hot washcloth (shaked out in the air just for a second to make it uber-hot but not scalding), covered up with a hand towel immediately, on each side, and then a bath towel over both sides. The towels help to retain the heat of the washcloth. After you remove the compresses, let your breasts air dry before putting your bra or clothes on over them.
  • I always nurse first on the side that hurts most. And if there's a particular side that hurts more (like, if the underside hurts most and is red), I angle it so that the baby's tongue/bottom of their mouth is directly positioned on that part of the breast. So, I'll use the football hold, cross over hold, laying side by side, or whatever, to get them into the best position to stimulate the part that hurts most.
  • Ibuprofen & Tylenol, alternating round-the-clock.
  • Rest, rest, rest, and rest some more. Do as little as you possibly can besides nursing and sleeping. This one is perhaps the most important. Rest, wake up to nurse, rest, rest, rest, nurse some more, and repeat until the infection is gone.
  • Nurse slightly *more* often than you would normally do. Drain your breasts as completely as possible, and use your thumb to massage any hard lumps/spots to get the milk out.
  • DO NOT WEAR UNDERWIRE. This is often a trigger for mastitis, as it presses right on certain ducts and can perpetuate the problem. Wear a soft cotton nursing or sports bra.
  • If you are using nursing pads, change them often.
  • If fever persists for more than 24 hours, call your doctor, as you may require antibiotics. I wish I'd have known to do this with my first bout. It wouldn't have lasted near as long as it did if I had called my doc earlier than I did.

OK, that's my brain dump about what helps me when I deal with mastitis... I hope it helps you. Mastitis can be a discouraging development while breastfeeding, but treat it quickly, and persevere; you can still go on to enjoy a very successful breastfeeding relationship! Hang in there!

If you have had mastitis and have tips that can help other moms, please share your thoughts in the comments.

If you're wondering why I'm writing about this, no, I don't have mastitis now. I'm just trying to get these things out on "paper" while I still remember them. I know the day will likely come when I no longer have little ones and may not be able to remember all these particulars. So, I'm writing them out now, in hopes that it can help others.


Elaine said...

I just mention this in the hope also that it helps someone else. I also had very bad mastitis with my first (of four) babies. It happened when he was about 6 weeks old and ultimately took 2 anti-biotics to clear. My doctor told me if the second one didn't work I would have to be admitted to hospital to have my breast drained. Thankfully that was on Christmas eve and I think because of the season they were willing to try a second antibiotic. My tip comes from a dear friend who helped me out.

If your breast(s) is so full that they are leaking and you need some relief from pain (eg if baby has slept a little longer than normal), 'hang' your body over the bath and let only the excess milk flow out with gravity. Only the excess milk, as there is obviously plenty there. This will give you some relief but won't encourage your breasts to replenish the milk. This tip has helped me out on many occasions.

Good blog post Jess - so glad you are back to blogging again, always appreciate your posts.

Anonymous said...

all good advice Jess! I may just add that if a mum is also experiencing fevers and aches, that she consider taking antibiotics. I have seen mums suffer for weeks, and get so sick that they have required surgery on infected milk ducts! If their immune system is not able to fight the infection, antibiotics will be an enormous (and quick acting) relief :-)

xx simone in Oz

Anonymous said...

I have had the beginnings of mastitis & do as you say - try & nip it quick! I have found that a cabbage leaf placed in bra is a great relief also. I don't understand how it works, but it does.
Thanks for all your labors with your blog - much appreciated.


Jacquelyn said...

I found a hot compress before and during nursing and a cold compress after really helpful, a cold washcloth or a cabbage leaf out of the fridge. I didn't really think that a cabbage leaf would work but it kept cold longer than the washcloth!

How awful having mastitis for such a long time! I've only had it for 2 days at the most. A most unpleasant experience!

Anonymous said...

It also helps to take extra doses of vitamin C (Rose Hip tea is wonderful!) and garlic to help boost immunities and fight infection. I have had to use all of your tips at least once when I was nursing each of my four children! Kristen

Kelly said...

I had my first bout with mastitis this last year with my 3rd biological child -- on Christmas morning, no less! I spent the entire day rotating through nursing in bed, massaging the sore areas while in a hot tub, drinking tons of water and sleeping in between. Baby wasn't even two weeks old, and I had considered myself an old pro at nursing, so it sneaked up on me. Fortunately, I suppose, I'd had plenty of badly-plugged ducts before and knew what to do. What's always worked best for me is to lay baby on his back and nurse on all fours over him. It looks hilarious, but if you do this and massage downward on the plugged area, the gravity plus baby's nursing plus your massage downward will really work that plug out.

I do hope that helps someone. It was a revelation for me when I received that tip, and it's gotten me through many a plugged-duct which can lead to mastitis!

Lauren said...

I almost always get a plugged duct under my right armpit, sometimes even while I'm pregnant. I have found that if I massage it every time I take a shower, it helps to prevent mastitis.
Sometimes, that doesn't even work. I got mastitis four times with my fourth child. Twice I was able to do all of the things you mentioned and have a sweat-out at night, and it passed, but twice I was forced to antibiotics. It's important to say that if fever doesn't go away within 24 hrs., it's best to call your doctor for an antibiotic so as to avoid hospitalization.

Jess said...

Thanks, everyone, for sharing your tips & experiences!

Simone & Lauren, thanks for the reminder about antibiotics. I did end up getting on them my first go-round, but I should've done so a lot sooner, and wish I'd have known to do so once the fever persisted. I'll change the post to reflect that good advice!

Leah S said...

I don't think I've had full blown mastitis before, but I've definitely have gotten the "he's sucking needles out of me!" feeling.

I didn't give it a chance to get worse by applying essential oils. I used lavender and doTERRA's Citrus Bliss blend. Two drops of each, rub it on my breast 2 or 3 times a day; the pain is gone in 12-24 hours.

Ever since the introduction of essential oils in my family's life, we've managed to avoid doctors. I've used the oils to fight ear infections, bronchitis, teething, colds, headaches and other maladies that pop up.

I used the oils when my husband deeply sliced his thumb and after 4 days, I got scared that it was getting worse, so we agreed that he needed to see the doctor. The doctor was super impressed with how clean and well healing the wound was. Yeah, we paid $50 to hear that using God's given pharmacy was working much better than any method the doctor could come up with. :)

Brad and Kristin said...

I had terrible bouts with mastitis all during the times I nursed my first two children (past their first birthdays). I had mastitis at least one or twice per month, and it was absolutely awful.

When I got pregnant with my third child, I did lots of research into what a person can do to prevent mastitis. I tried all of the things suggested to prevent mastitis, and I firgured out what was the cause of my incredibly frequen mastitis. I was sleeping wrong.

I like to sleep on my side, with my arms by my sides, but the pressure of my arms against my breasts was causing plugged ducts, leading to mastitis. Now I have to be very careful in the way that I sleep, lest there is the least bit of prolongued pressue on my breasts!

I hope that will help someone prevent's a pretty terrible sickness!