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How can I Deal with Mastitis While Breastfeeding?

By Kaitlyn N. Watkins
Updated May 17, 2024
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Some women experience mastitis while breastfeeding in the first six weeks to two months of the baby's life. This is a painful infection, and symptoms include a painful, reddened area or even an abscess on the breast, breast skin that is warm to the touch, swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, and flu-like fever and chills. Safe treatments for mastitis while breastfeeding include antibiotics, warm compresses, and over-the-counter pain medication. Seek medical attention as soon as mastitis is suspected.

Mastitis while breastfeeding can develop from delaying feedings or pumping sessions, a clogged milk duct, not fully emptying the breast, bacteria introduced through cracked nipples, or anemia and accompanying immune resistance. Failing to nurse regularly or completely can lead to mastitis, so it is important to not delay feedings and to pump or express milk when breasts are engorged. Maintaining a proper latch can help prevent mastitis while breastfeeding because the baby will be able to drain the breast more efficiently and nipples will become less cracked and irritated. Though it may be painful to continue to nurse while treating mastitis, it will help the infection clear up more quickly, and it is safe for the baby.

Doctors will prescribe antibiotics for mastitis to kill the bacteria causing the infection. It is essential to take the complete course of medication, even if the infection appears to be clearing up. If an abscess develops or a milk duct appears clogged a doctor might need to drain the breast. Usually a woman can take acetaminophen for pain or ibuprofen for pain and inflammation. It is safe to nurse or pump milk while taking these medications and may actually help reduce pain. If a doctor recommends suspending breastfeeding from the affected breast while an abscess heals, a woman can pump the milk from that breast to give to the baby and continue to nurse from the healthy breast.

A warm wet washcloth applied to the affected breast for fifteen minutes before nursing might ease discomfort. Warmth can trigger the let-down reflex that sends milk from the milk ducts and help it flow more easily at the beginning of a nursing session, which is usually the most painful part. If the baby seems to resist nursing from the affected breast, it is not because the milk tastes different but because the breast is harder and more difficult to latch onto. Expressing milk until the breast is softer will help the baby and the mother become more comfortable.

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