When Breastfeeding Hurts

Father and mother with a newborn son. New young multi-generation family

During pregnancy and after your baby is born, you’ll notice significant changes in the size, shape and “feel” of your breasts. When you are breastfeeding, you’ll notice changes again. While all these changes are biologically necessary to feed your baby, you may experience other, more troubling changes. These changes could be signs of mastitis, a very painful condition.

Kim Reule, MSN, APRN, FNP-C and a certified Lactation Counselor here at Alzein Pediatrics is here to help you understand mastitis, take preventative measures and know when to consult with her to treat and avoid a reoccurrence.

What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is inflamed breast tissue, sometimes involving an infection. Symptoms include:

  • Breast tenderness and/or warmth to the touch
  • Swelling or redness
  • Thickening of tissue
  • Fever of 101 F or greater
  • Pain or a burning sensation continuously or just while breast-feeding.

You might also notice a hard lump or wedge-shaped area of engorgement around an inflamed milk duct, or red streaks.

Approximately 2% of breastfeeding women develop mastitis. Smokers and those with diabetes, chronic illness, HIV/AIDS, or an otherwise impaired or compromised immune system are at higher risk. While both men and women can develop mastitis, it is most common in nursing mothers.

How does it develop?
Mastitis is most commonly developed when bacteria from your baby’s mouth enters your milk ducts. This can happen due to cracking in your nipple because of dry or aggravated skin. Mastitis can also be caused by backed up milk ducts, if your breast remains slightly full after feedings. When happening together, the combination of both of these conditions gives mastitis the best chance to develop as remaining milk is a catalyst for bacteria from a baby’s mouth to grow inside your milk ducts.

How do I treat it?
First, you should not stop nursing; remember that backed up milk ducts can escalate mastitis. You can feed your baby from your unaffected breast and pump from the affected one if feeding becomes too painful. When you are nursing from the affected breast, you can dangle feed (lean over your baby). This will put gravity on your side! You can also massage the affected area while you nurse.

When should I call Alzein Pediatrics and Ms. Reule?
If your mastitis symptoms last more than a day, call our office. You may be placed on antibiotics and should be able to continue to breastfeed. Mastitis is likely to reoccur if not treated properly. If you’ve experienced mastitis more than once, even if it did resolve in a day, call our office for a virtual or in-person visit with Ms. Reule. Different methods of latching on, changes in nipple care or alternative positioning may be all that’s needed to help you prevent mastitis in the future.

Can I avoid mastitis entirely?
Staying hydrated is very important! Drinking sufficient water throughout the day prevents your nipples from becoming dry and cracked. If your nipples do become dry or crack, allow them to air dry- do not aggravate them with a towel. Make sure your bra is fits comfortably and is not too tight as this can hinder your milk flow, increasing your chances of blockages that lead to mastitis. Ask Ms. Reule about therapeutic breast massage, a great way to relax and prevent issues like mastitis. You can also prevent mastitis by thoroughly emptying your breasts, either through frequent nursing or pumping. Between pumping and feedings, use a cold compress to manage any pain and inflammation.

Mastitis doesn’t have to stop your breastfeeding experience. With help from Ms. Reule and Alzein Pediatrics, you can resolve painful issues quickly and thoroughly.

Questions about mastitis or other breastfeeding challenges? A virtual telehealth appointment is perfect to get your answers! Call our office at 708-424-7600 or click here to make a telehealth visit using your smartphone, tablet or computer. We are always happy to help make feeding your baby as comfortable as possible!

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