The benefits of breastfeeding are well-documented. In addition to physical and emotional benefits for both mother and baby, breastfeeding also provides vulnerable new babies with immunity and infection prevention, and the CDC calls it the “clinical gold standard” for infant nutrition. However, it doesn’t come without its challenges.
Mastitis is one of those challenges. An inflammation of the breast tissue, mastitis can happen when a milk duct is blocked or bacteria enters the breast and the tissue becomes swollen and sometimes infected. It can be painful and cause heat, redness, and flu-like symptoms.
There are a few things that cause mastitis. Cracked or sore nipples, an incomplete latch, using only one position, and tight-fitting bras that restrict breastmilk flow can all lead to the condition, so preventing these as much as possible can help prevent it. To reduce chances of getting it, fully drain your milk during a feeding, change nursing positions, and make sure there’s a good latch.
If you do develop mastitis, “Getting the milk out and flowing is the number one thing you can do to start feeling better,” said Maui RN and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Natalie Marcus of Maui Breastfeeding Support. “Breastfeeding is 100% recommended with mastitis, as the milk is not infected and will not harm your baby.” Marcus recommends breastfeed frequently, on cue, with the baby’s chin pointed toward the area of the blockage. If nursing is too painful, pumping or hand expression will also help. Other home remedies like warm showers, a warm compress before feeds, massage, hydration and rest can all help. Tylenol and ibuprofen are both safe to take while breastfeeding for pain relief.
If these remedies don’t work, it can be important to seek medical advice, as antibiotics might be necessary. “If you are not feeling any improvement after 12-24 hours of conservative treatment and home remedies, if your condition is worsening, or if your fever spikes above 101 degrees F, please contact your healthcare provider for assistance,” suggests Natalie.
Lastly, consulting a breastfeeding professional can be a valuable tool in getting support. Lactation consultants and breastfeeding professionals like Natalie can sometimes be found through healthcare providers, and Pacific Birth Collective maintains a directory listing with Maui professionals who provide in-home breastfeeding support.
Lantana Hoke of Haiku is the director of Pacific Birth Collective and a lecturer at the University of Hawaii Maui College. She is passionate about empowering and educating the Maui community through her work.