Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Breastfeeding Through Mastitis

Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that sometimes occurs while breastfeeding.  Typically mastitis is caused by not expressing milk frequently enough which allows bacteria to multiply in the milk ducts.  Mastitis usually occurs within the first three months after a baby is born, but it can also occur at times when baby suddenly drops feeding sessions (sleeping through the night), or when a mother goes back to work and may skip pumping sessions. In cultures where breastfeeding is very common the rate of mastitis is low.  Symptoms of mastitis vary, and usually involve pain in the breast, red and inflamed skin that may be hot to the touch, feelings of fatigue (flu like symptoms) and fever over 101 degrees.  Many cases of mastitis need to be treated with antibiotics because there is risk of abscess formation that could require surgical removal.  Mild cases may not require antibiotics, however you should contact your doctor immediately if you suspect you may have symptoms of mastitis.
Mastitis often occurs in the first three months after delivery

Mastitis was something I never thought I would experience in my life.  I've already breastfed one child up until age two and I had exclusively nursed my second child for three months when I had my first experience with this condition.  During my maternity leave I had been pumping and storing 5 extra ounces of milk each day.  During my first day at work I pumped three times and was surprised to discover that baby normally consumed about 18 ounces of milk during the day.  I began sending 20 ounces of milk for him.  Since I was already pumping so much milk, I decided I wanted to drop the extra ounces I had been pumping in the morning.  By Thursday, baby was so tired from daycare, that he ended up sleeping through the night two nights in a row.  I wasn't paying much attention to the dropped feedings: I was happy that baby was sleeping and I was pumping plenty of milk.  Saturday hit, and my one breast was a little sore.  I thought that was OK: I knew I was trying to get rid of that extra pumping session and I had pumped about 3.5 of the usual 5 ounces I would have collected.

Then Sunday arrived and I knew something was wrong.  I woke up feeling ill.  I was simply exhausted and had pain in my legs. I was having pain while nursing on my right side and developed a quarter-sized red spot that was warm to the touch.  Suddenly it clicked: I had mastitis.  I hadn't developed a fever yet, so I pumped as much milk as I could from the side in question and nursed frequently for the rest of the day.  My breast felt sore, as if it had been bruised, but my doctor said if my symptoms didn't worsen I could check back in 24 hours.

The next day I was feeling much better, but I still had soreness and my milk production was lower.  Milk production often drops a bit while the body is fighting off infection.  Thankfully I caught the mastitis early enough to avoid the use of antibiotics.  However, I certainly learned that mastitis is nothing to be taken lightly: you must use extreme care when reducing feedings and pumping sessions.  Sadly many mothers end up weaning early because of mastitis, however, you can still successfully breastfeed through an infection.  The bacteria is not harmful for baby (it just doesn't belong in your breast tissue) and nursing your baby frequently will help you get over the infection faster (by clearing infected ducts often).


  1. Great article! I think it's key that women seek medical help IMMEDIATELY. I was worried about antibiotics, so I tried natural remedies. Then, it was the weekend and I couldn't see a care provider without going to the ER. By Sunday evening my fever had spiked to a scary 104 degrees. Needless to say, I ended up in the ER. I was given pain meds and antibiotics, but incorrectly informed that I couldn't nurse my child while taking them. I ended up attempting to pump and dump while taking the meds. The infection grew worse because the pump wasn't emptying my breast like my baby could have. I got so sick, I was vomiting and couldn't even keep the antibiotics down. Next thing I knew, I was admitted to the hospital for 48 hours to have IVs. So, please, seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY and consult your pediatrician about the medications that they prescribe you to make sure they are okay to use while nursing.

    1. So true! I called my doctor as soon as I knew something was wrong and thankfully I caught it early enough that I was able to heal on my own. Antibiotics are a necessity for many cases of mastitis. I've heard other women describe mastitis as if they were on the verge of death: it is extremely serious and can be very painful. Thank you so much for your comment!

  2. Good thing you caught it early. It certainly helps when you've breastfed before and know how things work. I got mastitis with my first child. It wasn't easy to detect because I had been struggling to breastfeed for weeks and just suffered through the pain. It wasn't until I had a fever that I knew something was wrong. I did my research and kept breastfeeding, but it was definitely painful.

  3. Mastitis is quick! I was so surprised how quickly I went downhill. I had to have antibiotics since I went from thinking I pulled a pec muscle (duh) to high fever in a few hours. We had palate issues and had to exclusively pump for the first 11 weeks, so I had to pump through the mastitis. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. And my milk production tanked for at least a week. I'm glad you caught it early and posted this so someone else might be able to catch it early, too!