Breastfeeding is often challenging, especially in the early days when everything feels so new and you’re still getting used to everything. It can be exhausting, painful, and just downright difficult at times.
If you have ever been unfortunate enough to develop mastitis while breastfeeding, you know how awful it can be. You are probably feeling pretty miserable right now as you read this; trust us — we know because we’ve been there too! Mastitis is extremely painful, but thankfully it’s not something that tends to recur if you take care of yourself afterward. Read on for some advice about how you can avoid getting mastitis again and what to do if you get it once again.
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is an infection and inflammation of the breast tissue. It is usually caused by a bacterial infection, but can also be caused by a virus, fungus, or even a reaction to certain medications. It can occur at any time during breastfeeding but is most common in the first 6 weeks after giving birth when your immune system is still relatively low.
While the term “mastitis” refers to an infection of the breast tissue, most people often use the term interchangeably with “breast infection”, “breast abscess”, or “breast pustules”. When a breast infection occurs, you will likely experience a sudden onset of a red, swollen, and very painful breast. The pain is usually worse in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, but can also sometimes be felt in the upper inner quadrant. You will likely also notice red spots or pustules forming on the skin of the affected breast and feel warmth in that breast. The breast may become extremely hard and feel like a ball of dough under the skin. The breast may also feel warm to the touch, and you may even experience some fevers and chills.
How to Avoid Getting Mastitis While Breastfeeding
Mastitis is easy to avoid, but it can be difficult to treat once it sets in, so prevention is key! Here are a few ways to avoid getting mastitis while breastfeeding:
- Drink lots of water: Hydration is super important when breastfeeding. Water helps to flush toxins out of your system, which is necessary because your body is expending so much energy to produce and sustain your milk supply. Water also helps the healing process when you get mastitis.
- Eat a well-balanced diet: A healthy diet will help to boost your immune system and keep your body healthy and strong. Focus on eating lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds as these foods are filled with nutrients that will keep your breastfeeding journey as easy as possible.
- Take care of yourself: Getting enough sleep and taking time for self-care are extremely important when you are breastfeeding. This is an extremely busy and tiring time in your life, so make sure to make yourself a priority!
- Breastfeed frequently: Try to stick to the “rule of thumb” and feed your baby every 2 to 3 hours, day and night. Your best bet is to go by your baby’s hunger cues instead of a set time.
How to Treat Mastitis While Breastfeeding
If you have developed mastitis, you will likely have already noticed some symptoms, including a red and swollen breast, pain, and an increase in the temperature of the breast. If you notice any changes or symptoms while breastfeeding, stop feeding from that breast and massage the area with your fingers in a figure-8 pattern to help alleviate the pain.
If you have developed a breast infection, then you will need to take antibiotics and treat the infection. If you try to go without treating mastitis, it will likely get worse and continue to spread to the other breast, especially if you do not remove the source of infection from your breast. If you have mastitis, you should seek treatment from a medical professional. Your doctor will likely recommend antibiotics and may also recommend applying heat to your breasts to help alleviate the pain. If you have developed a breast abscess, then you might need antibiotics, a breast drain, and/or surgery to remove the abscess.
3 Natural Remedies for Mastitis While Breastfeeding
If you have developed mastitis and have been prescribed antibiotics, you can also use the following natural remedies to help treat the infection and speed up the healing process.
- Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is an extremely powerful antibacterial and antifungal agent (as well as being antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory!). Topically applying coconut oil to your breasts will help to clear up the infection, speed up the healing process, and also protect your breasts from further infection.
- Ginger Tea: Ginger has been used for centuries to help relieve pain and reduce inflammation in the body. To make ginger tea, you will need to cut a piece of fresh ginger root into small chunks. Place the ginger in a saucepan and add enough water to cover the ginger. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the ginger for 30 minutes. Strain the tea and let it cool before applying it to your breasts.
- Blueberry Tea: Blueberries are one of the most powerful antioxidants out there, and they also have anti-inflammatory properties. Simmer blueberries in water until they have turned into a thick juice, then let the blueberry tea cool and apply it to your breasts.
Mastitis is often scary for new breastfeeding moms, but it is easy to avoid and very easy to treat. Remember to drink plenty of water, eat a well-balanced diet, get enough sleep, and try to follow the “rule of thumb” and feed your baby every 2 to 3 hours, day and night. If you do get mastitis, try to apply heat to the area, drink ginger tea, and take antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor. You can also use coconut oil, blueberry tea, and/or ginger tea to help speed up the healing process.