What is mastitis?

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Sore breasts and the feeling you're coming down with something? You could have mastitis. It’s a common condition, affecting around one in ten breastfeeding mums, normally developing around three months after giving birth.

But it needn’t stop you from breastfeeding – and can easily be treated.

What is mastitis?

Mastitis is a blockage or build-up of milk in the breast, which makes the breast tissue painful and inflamed. Although most common in breastfeeding women, women who are not breastfeeding and men can also get it.

What causes mastitis?

Your breastfeeding technique might need adjusting so check that both your baby’s cheeks are touching your breast evenly during the feed, so that he can drain both the upper and lower half of the breast.

‘Often mums develop mastitis in the upper half of the breast because baby has rolled away from the breast and his top cheek isn’t anywhere near the breast,’ says breastfeeding expert Geraldine Miskin.

To get a good latch make sure your whole nipple and most or all of your areola (the dark-skinned area around it) is in his mouth.

What are the symptoms of mastitis?

It usually affects just one breast.

  • A painful and swollen area on your breast which may be red.

  • Wedge-shaped breast lump or hard area.

  • Burning pains, especially when feeding.

  • White nipple discharge which may contain streaks of blood.

  • A high temperature or chills and aches and pains, which can sometimes make you feel like you’re coming down with the flu.

How is mastitis treated?

See your GP to find out what treatment you need and prevent your mastitis from getting worse.

Resting up and drinking plenty of fluids helps to ease mastitis, plus applying cold compresses will soothe sore and inflamed nipples and glands, so try keeping a cloth in the freezer instead of the fridge to make sure it stays cold for longer. Some mums might find anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen helpful to reduce swelling.

Although it might seem like the last thing you want to do, regular breastfeeding is an important part of your recovery.

‘It’s vital that you continue to breastfeed in order to get rid of the blockage,’ says Geraldine. Blocked breast milk can lead to infection or cause painful abscesses in the breast.

When you develop mastitis, your milk can become saltier and some babies might not feed as well as they did before, which might cause a drop in your milk supply. Expressing your milk every three hours will help counterbalance the drop and ensure you don’t oversupply.

‘Get baby back onto the breast as soon as possible, so he can regulate your supply again and you don’t become dependent on expressing,’ says Geraldine.

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