breastfeeding mastitisMastitis is caused by common bacteria in the breast – staphylococcus aureus. Cracks in the skin or nipples allow the bacteria to enter the body and cause an infection. Pain and fatigue associated with mastitis may leave new mothers feeling they need to wean baby from the breast, but women can breastfeed with mastitis.

Causes of Mastitis

Mastitis associated with breastfeeding is commonly referred to as lactation mastitis. The infection is caused by a break in the skin of the breast, usually the nipple or areola that allows staph bacteria to infect the broken area. Improper latching, biting or intense pulling on the breast can cause breaks in the skin.

Mastitis also occurs without infection. Non-infection mastitis is often associated with engorgement, milk stasis or plugged milk ducts.

Symptoms of Mastitis

Mastitis caused by a staph infection may cause redness, swelling and fever. Other common symptoms include:

  • Lopsided breast shape
  • Lump in affected breast
  • Pain that may be more intense when breastfeeding
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Fever is characteristic of mastitis caused by an infection. If there is no infection, you will not experience a fever.

Treatment for Mastitis
It is important to maintain breastfeeding while experiencing mastitis. Engorgement can increase pain or make the condition worse. If an infection caused mastitis, your physician may prescribe an antibiotic to relieve the infection. Warm compresses can be used for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours to relieve swelling and pain. Your doctor may also suggest a safe over the counter pain medication to relieve pain and fever.

Preventing Mastitis

Proper breast care is crucial to preventing mastitis. Infections typically enter through cracks in the nipple or areola, so keep a close eye on these sensitive tissues. If you notice any breaks in the skin, wash the area well with warm, soapy water and rinse/dry thoroughly before and after breastfeeding. Practice proper latching techniques even if it means going back to the basics of positioning and helping baby remember how to latch properly. Sloppy latching can cause cracks in the nipple and areola that lead to infection.

How Long Does it Take for Mastitis to Heal?

With medical care and proper attention to breast care, you will feel better within 48 hours of starting antibiotic medications. If your mastitis is associated with engorgement or plugged milk ducts pain can subside as soon as normal breast milk production and draining patterns return. Remember to drain the breast about every two hours for the first few months while you establish your milk supply. Mastitis that occurs later in lactation may be the result of baby needing less milk leading to overproduction of milk. Again, with rest, warm compresses and proper breastfeeding tactics, your breasts should return to normal in a short time.