Mastitis Lessons Learned
Updated: Jun 11, 2020
Mastitis is a word I had never heard of until I went to the emergency room with a 104 degree fever after being home with my newborn baby for only a few short days. I knew something was seriously wrong when I was not strong enough to sit up or attempt to breastfeed my son. I unfortunately suffered from a case of mastitis in which the inflammation from plugged ducts led to an infection that had to be treated with antibiotics.
“(...) mastitis is an inflammation of the breast that can be caused by obstruction, infection and/or allergy.” (1)
The nurses rolled the breast pump right to my hospital bed so I could continue to pump and try to relieve the clogged ducts. My dedicated grandmother even came to the hospital to take the freshly expressed breast milk back to my baby for his next few feedings while I was away from him. As horrible as mastitis felt, the worst part was not being able to take care of my newborn baby because I was too weak to take care of myself.
Mastitis is serious and many new parents are not prepared to deal with the consequences. It is important to be aware of the warning signs in order to avoid mastitis, especially in the first days as a new mother. Being so sleep deprived and exhausted immediately following childbirth, I clearly was not paying attention to my body and didn’t even realize I had hard lumps and red hot spots on my breasts. I probably assumed it was normal for my breasts to feel that way. There are many potential causes of mastitis, but I believe a few particular factors contributed to my infection.
First of all, having a c-section makes us more prone to infection as our bodies are already weak and healing from surgery with antibiotics. Secondly, nonstop pumping or an improper latch can cause cracked or bleeding nipples, which is an open invitation to germs. Constant pumping in the early days can also lead to an oversupply and engorgement which may then result in blocked ducts if the milk is not being drained properly. Also, spending so much time in a hospital is not an ideal environment after delivery.
“Hospital stay increases mom’s exposure to infectious organisms.“ (1)
Stress, sleep deprivation and exhaustion all play a role in contributing to mastitis as well. Dealing with other factors such as a premature newborn who can not nurse and spending time in the NICU certainly will contribute to a mother’s stress and increase her chances of developing an infection. I have even learned that my anemia may have also been another cause of mastitis.
After having experienced mastitis in both breasts twice in a matter of weeks after my son’s arrival, I was extra cautious to be mindful of engorgement and lumps moving forward. I was able to relieve blocked ducts in a matter of days by continuing to nurse and pump in addition to frequent massages and hot showers along with bed rest. Heated gel pads or any heating pad used before massaging or nursing will also help to relieve clogged ducts.
So, if ever I am engorged and believe that I may be at risk for developing mastitis, I now follow these steps below:
MASSAGE. Massaging as often as possible helps to get the milk flowing again.
NURSE. Keep your baby on your breast as much as you can; a baby is much more efficient at unclogging milk ducts than any pump. Avoid going long stretches without nursing.
PUMP AND HAND EXPRESS. After nursing your baby, pump or hand express. You can also massage the opposite breast you’re breastfeeding or pumping with.
HOT SHOWERS. Take a hot shower to relax and don’t forget to massage your breasts while you’re in there.
REST. Throw yourself in bed (bra-less) and don’t forget to massage while you’re there too.
If ever in doubt, seek medical attention right away. It is crucial to address any pain or discomfort you feel in your breasts while recovering from childbirth.
”Whether you have a sore breast, a blocked duct or a breast infection, the initial care is similar: nurse frequently, rest and apply heat to the tender area.” (2)
Bonyata, Kelly. “Plugged Ducts and Mastitis • KellyMom.com.” KellyMom.com, 24 Jan. 2018, kellymom.com/bf/concerns/mother/mastitis/.
“Mastitis.” La Leche League International, www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/mastitis/.