October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in case no one has told you yet, it's important to take care of your girls at all stages of your life! And that includes after having a baby. One of the things that a lot of new mamas experience when they're a new mama and new to breastfeeding is mastitis-- the dreaded breast infection that pretty much makes you want to die.
So what is mastitis? And how do you know if you have it?
I'm here to clear it up for you, mama. As someone who had mastitis with both my littles while I was breastfeeding, and randomly got it like 3 months ago... yeah, I've got the answers to your questions, mamas.
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is breast inflammation that normally results in swollen, red breasts that feel tender and painful to the touch. Mastitis is most common in women who are breastfeeding their littles, but can also occur with new mamas when their milk comes in and they are choosing to bottle feed, because the milk ducts are getting clogged, and can also happen to mamas who aren't nursing, and to mamas who are weaning their babes from breastmilk.
Mastitis can also occur because bacteria enters into the breast, which is easier than you would think, mama. Considering this is most common in new mamas, when you're breastfeeding late at night with little to no time to care for yourself (i.e., SHOWERING) that can mean that you're not keeping things as clean as they should be. Not changing out nursing pads often enough or excessive sweating from workouts can also cause bacteria to make its way in.
How Do I Know if I Have It?
Normally when you have mastitis, your breasts will feel warm to the touch, you may feel a distinct lump (thickening of the breast tissue or a clogged duct) and you'll be feeling run down with flu-like symptoms (i.e., chills, fever, headache, feeling rundown).
When you're breastfeeding, you shouldn't feel any firmness once your breasts are "empty." If you do feel a distinct lump, or your breast feels like it's still full even after feeding, it might be an early sign of mastitis. Also, if you see a localized red patch on your breast, then that normally indicates a clogged milk duct is becoming inflamed.
How Do I Treat It?
Since you're a new mama, no one is going to blame you for the fact that you didn't notice the early signs of mastitis, and now you feel like you have the flu, have a big, sore, hot, red, boob, and you want to die. I mean, everyone's human! And the great news is your OB can treat it basically by looking at you to see if you've got mastitis, and it is normally cleared up with a course of antibiotics.
In some cases, if you're able to catch it early enough, you can express the lump of tissue to clear the blocked duct, or apply heat to the breast to loosen up the tissue and allow the milk to flow more easily. I was able to do this when I got mastitis randomly a few months ago. I used a heating pad for 20-30 minutes, and then hopped into the shower and was able to express a lot of the milk out enough to clear the duct and there was no swelling or pain after that. But it's always a good idea to check with your doctor no matter what!
In some extreme and rare cases, not treating mastitis will lead to abscesses in the clogged duct that need to be drained/removed surgically, which NO ONE wants. So call your doc as soon as you notice any symptoms and get in for a checkup to keep the girls happy, mama!
How Do I Avoid It?
The things you need to do to not get mastitis are pretty easy, and once you get it, you will probably be able to pinpoint where you might have dropped the ball and caused yourself some grief. Do yourself and your girls (and your babe!) a favor and do these things if you're breastfeeding:
- Make sure you're emptying one side before switching baby on to the other breast.
- To ensure that your little is fully draining the breast, make sure that they have a proper latch. This will allow them to get both the foremilk and hindmilk while nursing.
- Use a wipe or a washcloth with soap and water to clean your nipple and areola after nursing to make sure there's no residual milk on your breasts.
- Always switch out your nursing pads once they feel wet on both sides (if using washable), or you see it soak through (if you're using disposable).
- If your babe is a stinker and falls asleep on you while you're nursing, and doesn't empty your breast, I recommend pumping to get the excess milk to make sure the breast is completely drained. Make sure and store it in the fridge so they can have a bottle later on--BONUS!