A mastitis infection is hard to miss, taking into account the defined signs and symptoms one experiences. Mothers who are breastfeeding are prone to mastitis during the first few weeks of nursing after giving birth. Nevertheless, the condition could also arise later on, particularly when there is poor drainage of milk from the milk ducts. For women who are not expectant or nursing, they could develop mastitis from their lifestyle activities e.g. smoking or from a nipple piercing. Other than that, women who have reached could develop mastitis as a result of dead skin cells and debris clogging the milk ducts due to hormonal changes. Mastitis needs to be treated as soon as detected to avoid further complications such as the formation of an abscess in the breast or milk stasis.
What Are The First Signs Of Mastitis?
The early signs of mastitis are basically warning signs that help you tell that you are developing the infection. They often occur within the first three months of breastfeeding, which is the most likely time of developing mastitis. The signs will only be experienced in one breast and not both. To identify whether you could be suffering from mastitis, look out for the following first signs:
- Pain in the breast around the area of inflammation and a burning sensation while breastfeeding
- Tenderness in the breast that is sore to the touch
- A lump inside the breast where the plugged milk duct is located
- The breast feels warm to touch
- Redness on the breast around the affected area (appears like a wedge-shaped pattern)
- Flu-like signs and symptoms including a high fever of 101 Fahrenheit and chills
What Causes Mastitis And Other Risk Factors?
There are two major causes of mastitis and they are – a blocked milk duct or the presence of bacteria within the breast tissue. These two causes can affect breastfeeding mothers, but in cases of non-lactating women, the latter is the major cause. Mastitis can also be attributed to by inflammatory breast cancer, which is a minor causative factor in non-lactating women. A blocked milk duct develops when there is poor expression of milk from the milk ducts or when there is a back flow of milk in the ducts. As a consequence, the milk ducts build up with milk causing an obstruction and hence the surrounding breast tissue swells up. Bacteria gets into the breast tissue through a crack or a pierced area on the nipple.
The source of the bacteria or germs could be the baby’s mouth or the mother’s body itself. For women smokers, the contents of the cigarette weaken their milk ducts, thus increasing their risk of developing a breast infection. Common risk factors of mastitis include; stress, poor baby positioning while breastfeeding, wearing tight and unfitting clothes, and poor nutrition. Also, if you’ve had mastitis before, there is a high likelihood you could develop the infection a second or third time.
How To Prevent Mastitis?
Knowing the possible causes of mastitis is helpful in protecting oneself against the infection in the future. However, if the underlying cause is cancer, then prevention may be overestimated. Anyways, for breastfeeding mothers, here’s how to prevent yourselves from developing mastitis:
- Breastfeeding regularly, or rather whenever your baby wants to feed or feel the urge to breastfeed. You should avoid breastfeeding on a schedule.
- When breastfeeding, ensure that your baby is well-positioned and baby attaches well to your nipple while feeding.
- Do not wear tight bras or tops, which press against your breast. Opt for comfortable clothes which are slightly loose and are ideal for breastfeeding.
- If you have an oversupply and your baby is unable to completely drain the breast milk, you should try pumping out the milk to prevent clogged milk ducts, which sometimes lead to mastitis.
- Rest up and avoid any stressful events which can interfere with your hormone balance, especially the oxytocin, which is responsible for milk-letdown.
- Ensure that you feed your baby from both breasts on equal measures. In short, don’t put preference on one side of the breast and forget the other.
- If you are a smoker, avoid smoking often or at all, to help improve your chances of not acquiring mastitis.
- Taking good care of your nipples, to avoid them drying and cracking. In case of a bruised nipple from a breast injury, seek medical care.
Mastitis can become a serious complication if not identified or treated early enough. Therefore, it is important that you are on the lookout for any warning signs, to avoid any complications. Generally, a person with mastitis will feel a lump inside the breast and pain, and the breast will appear to have a red wedge-shaped pattern, that is tender and warm to the touch. Mastitis is also accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as a high fever and chills.