Blocked milk ducts are a common problem for lactating mothers. About two thirds of breastfeeding mothers experience a blocked milk duct at some point. When a baby is born, the mother's body produces breastmilk (a process known as lactation). Breastmilk provides the baby with all of its nutritional requirements for the first few months of life. Breastmilk is produced in the mammary glands within th…
What is mastitis?
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms associated with mastitis include:
- Discomfort or pain in the breast;
- A red and swollen wedged area on the breast;
- A blocked milk duct or lump;
- Shivers and aches;
- High temperature or fever, and;
- Tiredness and weakness.
Mastitis is caused by an infection in the breast. It begins with a duct in the nipple becoming blocked, usually in breastfeeding mothers. Bacteria from the surface of the skin or baby's mouth get trapped in the blocked duct or enter via cracked nipples. These bacteria infect the mammary glands, giving rise to the symptoms of mastitis.
Risk factors associated with developing mastitis include:
- Prior mastitis;
- Blocked duct due to poor breast drainage from improper attachment of the baby to the breast;
- Cracked nipples (though it can also occur without cracked nipples), and;
- Restricted milk flow from tight clothing.
Methods for diagnosis
Mastitis can be diagnosed by your doctor after a physical examination and observation of your signs and symptoms including fever, chills and tenderness of the breast. A red, tender wedge-shaped area on the breast is also an indicator of mastitis.
Types of treatment
It is important to begin treatment at the first signs of mastitis. Mastitis is commonly treated with oral antibiotics to fight the infection. It is important to tell your doctor if you are allergic to penicillin. Pain-relief medication, such as acetaminophen, can also be used. Other treatment steps include:
- Continuing breastfeeding from the affected breast. This is important and is safe for your baby;
- Keeping the breast well drained through feeding or expressing;
- Heating the sore area of the breast before feeding. This can be done with a warm shower, hot water bottle or warm face washer;
- Cooling the breast after feeding. This can be done with an icepack wrapped in cloth;
- Massaging any lumps within the breast towards the nipple while feeding;
- Getting enough rest, and;
- Eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water.
If mastitis is identified and treated early, the condition will generally improve within 48 hours. Without prompt treatment, a breast abscess may develop that may require drainage. This is performed by a doctor and involves insertion of a needle into the breast in a process called aspiration.
Mastitis is a temporary and treatable condition. Although it can be quite painful at first, treatment with antibiotics is very effective and fast acting. It is important to begin treatment as soon as possible to avoid the condition worsening and an abscess forming.
To help prevent mastitis, it is important to ensure that milk is draining well. Blocked milk ducts can be due to missed feeds, the breast not draining well, or the wrong feeding position. If there is an oversupply of milk, you can speak to your health provider to discuss the best ways to manage this. It is possible to reduce the level of milk by expressing milk by hand or with a breast pump. Trying to get rest while your baby is asleep is also good for your wellbeing.