What mastitis is, and how to treat it
Put simply, mastitis is inflammation of breast tissue and can be a painful, overwhelming, and concerning condition for breastfeeding parents. It’s a condition assessed by an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and may also require additional treatment from your obstetrician or midwife).
When a breastfeeding parent has mastitis and less melanin (or lighter skin), they typically notice a red area on the affected area of their breast, while parents who are more melanated (or have darker skin) may not experience observable redness. Regardless of hue, parents with mastitis will often notice a tender, swollen area of the breast, and in the absence of visible redness should explain any concerning symptoms to their IBCLC.
Mastitis symptoms may appear suddenly, and they are usually accompanied by fever, chills, body aches, and extreme fatigue—and if left untreated, mastitis may lead to infection, weaning, and serious health issues. It’s crucial to reach out to an IBCLC for help right away if you suspect you have mastitis.
What causes mastitis?
Multiple conditions can lead to mastitis; the most common being plugged ducts that are not cleared, infrequent milk removal, damaged nipple tissue, and oversupply.
What are the risk factors?
You’re more likely to get mastitis if you’ve had it before, if you’re stressed or your body is run-down, if you’re prone to recurrent plugged ducts, and during the weaning period.
What to do if you suspect you have mastitis
- Contact your lactation consultant (IBCLC). Reach out to your lactation consultant right away: they will assess the situation and provide a personalized care plan. They will also look for the underlying issues that may have led to mastitis, and suggest changes so you can avoid mastitis in the future. If you don’t have a lactation consultant, connect with an IBCLC in your community for consultations covered by your medical insurance.
- Don’t stop breastfeeding and/or pumping. A cessation or decrease in milk removal will typically worsen symptoms and prolong healing. Milk removed from your breasts while you have mastitis is safe for your baby to consume.
- If you develop a fever contact your obstetrician (OB) or midwife. You may require a course of antibiotics.
- Rest. If possible, line up support to help you. It’s common to feel very fatigued, and you may need help caring for yourself and your baby during this time.
Remember that you’re not in this alone; IBCLCs are highly-trained medical professionals who are here to support you through every step of your breastfeeding journey, including complications like mastitis. Further, The Lactation Network is the largest network of IBCLCS in the country, and is here to provide the support and guidance you need to treat your mastitis and alleviate your pain and discomfort. Your lactation consultations may be covered entirely by your medical insurance as well, so you can feel empowered to seek a qualified, empathetic partner in your healing journey.
*Illustrations by Jesse Zhang