This post was contributed by Registered Nurse/Midwife and Gestational Diabetes Educator, Jenny van Gemert MNurs GDipMid GDipEd. (Insta)
What is mastitis?
Mastitis refers to inflammation, and sometimes infection, of the breast tissue. It starts with a blocked milk duct that creates a build-up of breast milk, which can then spread into breast tissue, causing inflammation. Mastitis affects anywhere between 5 and 20% of women in the postnatal period, and is more common in the first six weeks. It almost always affects one breast at a time.
How do I know if I have mastitis?
The onset of symptoms is usually quite sudden and includes a red breast that is hot and painful to touch. If an infection develops, symptoms often mimic a flu, with a temperature (above 37.5 degrees), exhaustion, shivers, and aches and pains. Patients often describe the feeling as being like a sudden-onset flu. However, if the infection is caught and treated early enough, many of these symptoms can be avoided.
How can I avoid mastitis?
There are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of mastitis. Avoid letting your breasts fill up too much by ensuring that your baby feeds, or that you pump, at regular intervals. If you do notice a blocked duct (it will feel firm), attempt to unblock it using massage, applying heat and encouraging your baby to feed from the affected breast. I suggest that women massage their breast in the shower, while applying warm or hot water to it. If it’s painful to feed or pump, you can hand express for comfort, too.
What do I do if I think I have mastitis?
If you are showing signs of an infection, the first and most important thing is to seek antibiotics. If your baby is six weeks or younger and you are still under the care of Dr Chris Russell, he can write a script to be faxed to your nearest pharmacy. Give the rooms a call on (03) 9418 8299 to arrange this.
If your baby is older than six weeks, please make an urgent appointment to see your GP. Be sure to explain the situation to reception staff as you will need to commence treatment immediately. If it’s the weekend, or you’re unable to get to your GP, please consider calling 13SICK and a bulk-billed GP can visit you at home.
Be sure to take the full course of antibiotics and to check for persistent symptoms (as described above), as you may need further follow-up from a breast specialist (although this is only required in rare, unresolved cases).
During treatment, I recommend:
- Resting as much as possible
- Applying a warm pack prior to feeding or expressing
- Applying a cold pack afterwards, for comfort and relief
- Continuing to empty the affected breast.
Should I keep feeding my baby?
If you feel able to, I recommend you keep feeding your baby. It is perfectly safe to do so and it will not only help your recovery, but will continue to establish a feeding routine. If it’s too painful to feed, don’t push through the pain as this could result in a negative association for both you and baby. Instead, you could consider pumping from the affected breast.
It can be very helpful to see a Lactation Consultant during this time. They can help you make a feeding plan and proceed with feeding, if this is your goal. Don’t be disheartened; there is no reason you can’t continue breastfeeding.