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When I got pregnant for the first time, I never thought breastfeeding would be so hard and painful. Not only did I suffer from low milk supply but I also had recurring cases of mastitis which caused me a lot of pain.
Not wanting any other mother to endure what I did, I want to share everything you need to know about mastitis using my own experience and what I have learned from doctors and research about this common condition.
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis – simply put – is an inflammation of breast tissue that often involves an infection. It can happen to any woman, but it is mostly common amongst those who are breastfeeding. In rare cases, it can even occur in men.
Causes, Signs, and Symptoms of Mastitis
Let me take a moment to speak from personal experience. While I was breastfeeding, I had to deal with two issues: low milk supply and a recurring mastitis problem.
Those who have been through the same things know what I’m talking about. The intense pain, swelling, soreness, burning sensation, headaches, and feeling tired and irritated all the time. Every time my babies would latch and unlatch, I would feel intense pain in my breast.
As a new mom, I was confused and frustrated, not knowing if this pain was normal or if it was simply temporary. However, as days and weeks went by, the pain only got worse.
I tried to talk to my doctor, friends, and a lactation consultant, describing what I was feeling, but they didn’t have any idea what I was going through. Severely stressed, I felt like a failure as a mom, trying to handle things on my own with Tylenol to reduce my fever and ice/heat packs to manage the pain.
I didn’t know I had mastitis at the time (this was 10 years ago), but if I did, I would have been able to research the potential cause(s) to help prevent future cases.
The main cause of mastitis is trapped milk – caused by insufficient draining of the breast or a blocked milk duct. It can also be the result of bacteria entering your breast through the nipple; this is why it is always important to wash your hands and wipe your breast before each time you breastfeed.
How to Treat Mastitis
Back to my personal experience. One day I went in for a routine doctor’s appointment and there was another doctor there as mine was away. I was able to describe the pain to her, and finally, someone was able to tell me what was happening.
She told me I had an infection and the normal course of treatment would be a round of antibiotics. Since I had already finished breastfeeding, we felt there was no reason to start the antibiotics. However, I did keep this in mind for the next baby.
Another suggestion for clearing a blockage and possibly prevent a future case is to change your breastfeeding habits. Drain the breast each time and avoid waiting too long to feed your baby so you don’t become engorged. You should also drink lots of water, rest as much as you can and wear a supportive bra (though not one that is too tight).
You can also try a different feeding position, like the cross-cradle hold. This position is best for new mothers who are learning to breastfeed. It allows you to support the baby’s head and bring them to the breast, allowing more natural milk flow.
How to Prevent Mastitis
The best way to prevent mastitis is to breastfeed as much as possible, ensuring that you are draining the breast each time you feed. Milk that is leftover becomes very sticky and can easily plug up milk ducts, creating little areas for bacteria to grow and thrive.
However, due to differences in milk consistency and lifestyles, some women are more prone to developing mastitis than others. Just the fact that you have previously had mastitis increases your likelihood of developing it again. Stress, not getting enough sleep, smoking, and wearing tight bras can also be risk factors for mastitis.
For me, even though I had issues with mastitis with my first two children, but by the time I had my third, I had made some lifestyle changes that may have affected my tendency for mastitis.
I had begun exercising regularly and eating healthy (cut down mostly on sugar and carbs) before I was pregnant with my third child. After I gave birth and went to my first appointment with my baby, I asked my doctor to prescribe some antibiotics due to my history with mastitis.
I didn’t take them right away; I wanted to see how things would go first. Soon, I found I had no pain and didn’t even need the medication. I can’t say for sure if diet and exercise cured me, but I can say that I never experienced it again.
It was such a relief to know that the infection was gone without the need for any medication. Even though I still had issues with low milk supply, it was the first time I was actually able to enjoy breastfeeding.
Can You Breastfeed With Mastitis?
It may be very painful, but it is better for you and your baby if you continue breastfeeding through your mastitis. Not doing so can affect your baby’s nutrition as well as your milk supply and overall health.
There is no better breast pump than your baby. If your mastitis is the result of a blocked duct, your baby’s suction can possibly help clear blockages and get things flowing again.
If you have any concerns or issue you should always consult your doctor.
Breastfeeding is not for everyone just try your best. If breastfeeding hasn’t gone as planned with your first baby, that doesn’t always mean it will turn out the same with your second or third baby.
If you find that you are still not able to breastfeed after doing everything you can, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t let anyone judge you or make you feel like you are a bad mom. Formula feeding is also a healthy choice for your baby.
Have you ever experienced mastitis? What did you do to treat the painful breast? Feel free to comment below.