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Mastitis: What is it and how can I treat it?

If you’re a nursing mom, you’ve definitely heard of mastitis. According to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, approximately up to 20% of breastfeeding women develop mastitis during their breastfeeding journey, with most cases occurring during the first 6 weeks postpartum. Mastitis is an infection that develops within the breast tissue and is caused by a persistent, unrelieved plugged duct or a cracked or damaged nipple.

How do I know if I have mastitis?

The beginning signs of mastitis usually include a warm, reddened area on the breast, breast tenderness, headache, body ache, chills, fever, and fatigue. Mastitis usually affects just one breast, but in severe cases can affect both.

How do I treat mastitis?

In order to treat mastitis properly, the breasts must be emptied frequently and efficiently. Now is not the time to stop breastfeeding, as breastfeeding is an essential part of treatment. Fortunately, the organism that most commonly causes mastitis (Staphylococcus) is not harmful to your baby. Rest is another key component to treating mastitis. Make sure to get as much bed rest as possible. Keeping your baby next to you will allow you to breastfeed and rest at the same time.

If you’re running a fever, make sure to contact your health care provider. In most cases antibiotics will be prescribed. It’s very important to complete the entire course of antibiotics as mastitis can re-occur if the infection is not completely treated. Antibiotics used to treat mastitis are compatible with breastfeeding.

If breastfeeding is too painful, pump the affected breast. You may wish to rent a hospital grade pump, as they are more efficient and gentler than a personal use pump.

If symptoms do not subside within 24 hours, or if they worsen, contact your health care provider. You may require a different antibiotic.

What happens if mastitis is not properly treated/resolved?

Untreated mastitis can lead to a breast abscess. An abscess is a collection of pus that forms from an infection that has no opening for drainage. If you continue to experience a hard, firm area in the breast that will not go away despite all treatment, call your health care provider. An ultrasound can help to diagnose an abscess.