Pain & Redness During Breastfeeding? You may have Mastitis!

Ahhhh motherhood. It comes so naturally and effortlessly, right? WRONG! The first days to weeks after birth can be difficult, physically and emotionally, for many women. Assuming you had an easy delivery and you have the ability to participate in daily activities like walking, showering and sitting, you may be experiencing the challenges related to breastfeeding.

The benefits of breastfeeding are well established and can include enhanced bonding between mom and baby, delivery of antibodies to baby for a stronger immune system, less diarrhea or constipation for the baby and fewer ear infections in the first year of life, to mention a few. However, even the most experienced breastfeeding mom can run into some obstacles while breastfeeding.

Mastitis is a condition in which a breastfeeding woman’s breast becomes painful, swollen and red. It can effect 2-10% of breastfeeding moms. It usually happens in the first few weeks to months of breastfeeding. To start, the engorgement (fullness) occurs because of poor milk drainage and some nipple trauma. This then causes compression of the mild ducts. If these symptoms last longer than 12-24 hours then it can lead to infection. The skin on the breast (like the rest of our body) has bacteria and this can contribute to the infection.

Risk factors include: partial blockage of milk duct, oversupply of milk, infrequent feeding, cracks in the nipples, maternal malnutrition, rapid weaning off of breastfeeding.

The symptoms are: pain, fever, redness, fatigue, chills, flu-like symptoms, pain or swelling in the underarm

Your doctor can make the diagnosis with an exam and lab tests are not always needed to start treatment. The initial treatment involves oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications like Motrin. It is important to remember you can continue to breast feed and/or pump during your treatment.

If symptoms do not improve the doctor may order an ultrasound of the breast. If mastitis is not treated adequately or quickly, it can lead to a breast abscess.

Prevention: If you have a history of mastitis, taking a lactobacillus probiotic during late pregnancy may help prevent recurrence of mastitis. Always speak to your doctor before starting a new medication while pregnant. It is unclear whether this same treatment works for women who have never had mastitis.

Though mastitis can occur for women who are breast feeding, prompt treatment is key. If initially attempts at treatment do not work reach out to your health care provider for further evaluation to decrease the chance for complications or a missed diagnosis.

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