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  • Developing Mastitis Does Not Have To Be The End Of Breastfeeding: Here's What You Can Do

    Mastitis is one of the reasons moms stop nursing, but it doesn't have to be that way.
    by Rachel Perez .
Developing Mastitis Does Not Have To Be The End Of Breastfeeding: Here's What You Can Do
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  • Breastfeeding is challenging on its own, hopefully only during the first few weeks. It gets more complicated -- and more painful -- if your breasts get infected or what lactation experts call mastitis

    Mastitis happens when breast tissues get infected and inflamed. One doesn't even have to be breastfeeding to get it, although that's often the case. It can also happen to men. 

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    Symptoms of mastitis 

    How do you know if you have mastitis? The main symptom of mastitis is inflamed breasts. Your breasts are inflamed if they feel tender and warm to the touch, appear red with a wedge-streaked pattern, have lumps, and are swollen. This may be accompanied by a burning sensation while breastfeeding. (See here what mastitis looks like.) 

    Sometimes, if you're lucky, mastitis doesn't come with an infection. But moms who develop mastitis may also feel feverish, fatigued, and aching all over the body. 

    Cause of and risks of mastitis

    Mastitis often occurs in breastfeeding women, but it's not nursing per se that causes it. Some women who breastfeed don't get it at all. It all boils down to latch and frequency of feeding. Here are the two common causes of mastitis:

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    Engorged breasts and clogged milk ducts 

    The most common cause of mastitis in nursing women are clogged ducts. When milk is not expressed from the breast frequently or efficiently, your breasts become engorged, and milk builds up in the ducts. If the blockage is not treated as soon as possible, it may develop redness or sore lumps, or worse, a collection of pus or abscess. 

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    Bacterial infection of the milk ducts

    Make sure your baby is latched on properly. An improper latch can cause cracked nipples and milk blisters, usually a painful white dot on the areola. These can be an entry point for germs and bacteria and cause an infection in the milk ducts. (Read here how to properly latch your baby.)

    Who is most at risk for developing mastitis?

    Women who previously had mastitis are more likely to get it again. Stress and fatigue are also significant factors. It commonly occurs during the first three months of nursing when moms are exhausted, having little to no sleep, and may skip a feeding or expressing milk at night. 

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    Some moms who return to work are also prone to developing mastitis due to limited lactation breaks. Wearing tight-clothes or ill-fitting bras can also be a factor as it can restrict milk flow. 

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    Treatment for mastitis

    If you are showing mastitis symptoms, tell your doctor right away so she can assess your condition. Treatment for mastitis can be as simple as emptying your breast to as complicated as having surgery. 

    Emptying the breast

    The quickest way to treat mastitis is to fully empty the breasts by direct breastfeeding or hand-express (or pump) breast milk. It's simple but comes at the cost of sometimes excruciating pain. 

    If you're breastfeeding through the pain, keep in mind these tips:

    1. Massage breast or put warm compress.  Before you nurse or pump, apply a warm compress or massage the breast in a circular manner to help loosen milk ducts.
    2. Offer the sore breast first. Babies are hungry at the start of feeding and can intensely suckle and efficiently drain milk from the sore breast. 
    3. Check your latch and nursing position. The only wany you baby can get mouthfuls of milk is through a proper latch, which makes suckling more productive. Switching positions can also help. 
    4. Breastfeed often. Milk production is 24/7, aiming to breastfeed or express milk every two hours to avoid clogged ducts. 
    5. Relax. Stress can affect your milk flow, so just think happy thoughts. Breathe deeply or listen to soothing music. 

    Your doctor may also prescribe pain medication, and in some cases, antibiotics to fight off the infection. If you're continuing to nurse your baby despite mastitis, don't worry. Typically, the medications prescribed are safe for breastfeeding women. 

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    Having surgery to drain an abscess

    Most women don't need surgery, which is required only if the milk ducts have been plugged for long periods and have accumulated pus or abscess. To avoid surgery, address breast engorgement and clogged ducts by emptying breasts entirely and as often and as soon as possible. (Read Jewel Mische's post about having breast surgery due to mastitis.)

    If you do need breast surgery to drain your milk ducts, you may need to wait until the small incision to heal before you can breastfeed your child on the affected breast. Don't worry, you can still nurse in the affected breast until your surgery wound heals. 

    It may be a cliché to read, but prevention is better than cure when it comes to mastitis. Make sure you nurse or express breast milk often to keep your breast milk flowing and avoid clogged ducts.  If you're having issues with breastfeeding, seek help as soon as possible. 

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