How To Prevent And Deal With Mastitis
Updated: Jan 25, 2022
Mastitis - this is something I would not wish upon my worst enemy. Yes, it is THAT painful! Recently I had mastitis, and it is definitely something I would never want to experience again!
Mastitis is an inflammation of breast tissue that sometimes involves an infection. It might not sound that bad from the description, but trust me, it is AWFUL! The inflammation causes constant breast pain, swelling, warmth (like your breast is on fire!), and redness. You might also have a fever, chills, and hot flashes. Needless to say, it is not fun!
Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breastfeeding (lactation mastitis). However, mastitis can occur in women who aren't breastfeeding and even in men.
Getting mastitis was a tough experience, not only was it painful, but I found it hard to take care of the boys too. It zapped up all my energy, and it was hard to carry Jasper and care for Joshua, as I didn't want to put any pressure on my breasts.
So how can one prevent or deal with mastitis? After extensive research and lots of different advice from doctors and other mamas. Here is a list of methods to prevent and deal with this beast!
How To Prevention Getting Mastitis
Don't Skip a Feed!
I know it is hard sometimes, especially when life gets busy or you have more than one kid to look after, but try not to stretch out your feed too much. (From my personal experience, I will say no more than 6 hours.)
My mastitis started because I was having a hectic week, and I tried to drag out my feed/pump time. I got a bit cocky, as I was getting comfortable pumping every 6 hours or so. I was also trying to have a longer stretch of sleep at night, so I only got up when I was really engorged. Lesson learnt - now, whenever I feel my boobs are tender, I will get up immediately and pump. I would rather get up in the middle of the night, than go through mastitis again.
Cut Down On Dairy
I only learnt this recently, thanks to my mama friend Jade. I was drinking a glass of milk before bed lately. Little did I know that dairy can increase the chances of clogged ducts.
My mastitis did clear up a lot quicker once I stopped drinking milk for a few days. So this is something very simple that you can do, if you feel like your breasts are being clogged up.
Cut Out Oily or Fatty Food
What you eat affects your breastmilk, so if you eat more oily and fatty food, your milk will be stickier. (Or more dense, making it easily to clogged up your ducts.)
Have you ever noticed that sometimes your milk is more white and sometimes it is more yellow? At the newborn stage, your milk is more yellow because of the colostrum. However, after the first month or so, when your milk is more yellow, it is because it has more fat in it. Which is actually a good thing usually, because it means your baby will feel fuller for longer. However, the downside is, your ducts get clogged up easier.
So if you feel like you are having trouble emptying your breasts after pumping or feeding, then keep a close eye on your diet. It might be the beginning of getting clogged ducts.
Avoid Eating Fish Maw
Fish maw is the dried form of fresh and high-quality air bladders of fish, rich in gelatin. This is very popular amongst the Chinese, and we often put it in our soup.
Not only does it taste good, but it helps with your milk production as well. Fish Maw is great to consume when you want to up your supply, but you should stop if you feel your ducts are starting to get clogged up.
Take Sunflower Lecithin Supplement
This is a tip from another mama, and it is too good not to share. Taking Sunflower Lecithin is a great way to help prevent the breast ducts from getting clogged by increasing the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk and decreasing its stickiness.
Hong Kong American Mom swears by it, and after reading up about it, I quickly went onto iherb to buy some for myself too. (My iherb code is: AVW9935 in case you are looking for a discount code.)
Avoid Wearing Tight or Underwire Bras
There is no hard-fast rule that you shouldn't wear underwire bras while nursing. However, I would try to avoid it if possible. Underwired and structured bras tend to be more rigid, so it doesn't have a lot of give when your boobs get engorged.
Your boobs can go up 1 -2 cup size during your breastfeeding journey. Depending if they are empty or engorged. So I prefer to wear non-padded soft bras around the house - as comfort is king! (Especially when you have blocked ducts or mastitis.)
When I am out, I prefer adding pads into my nursing bras to avoid spillage. One extra tip, I would also add bra hook extenders. This is a great way to relieve some pressure when your boobs are engorged to buy you some time before your next feed or pump.
Catch It Early
If your body doesn't feel right, it normally isn't. Look out for early signs of mastitis, such as:
Lumps in your breasts
Breasts still feel full after feeding or pumping
Red patches on your breasts
Your breast is extra sensitive and sore
Red, hot and swollen breasts
Flu like symptoms
Fever (Go see a doctor immediately if you have a temperature.)
These are telltale signs of mastitis is around the corner.
How to deal with Mastitis
Now that I have talked about how to prevent it, now let's talk about how to deal with this beast! Sometimes even when you do everything in your power to prevent mastitis, it can still happen. So here are some remedies to deal with mastitis.
Breastfeed Whenever You Can
Your baby is the best pump in the world! When I had mastitis, I just breastfeed as often as I could. Whenever Jasper was hungry, I just pop him on. I am not going to lie; it hurts like hell! But I know it is also the best way to clear out blocked ducts.
Your baby might feel more frustrated than normal during the feed, as they have to work harder to get the milk out. So I just let Jasper have a break whenever he needs to. As long as he is willing to keep breastfeeding, I just kept going.
Change Up the Positions
Try breastfeeding in different positions, cradle hold, football/rugby hold, side-lying position etc. When breastfeeding in different positions, your baby is sucking and unclogging the different ducts. You just don't know which ducts are blocked, so best to just clear them all.
Pump Whenever You Need To
If you are exclusively pumping, than make sure you are pumping regularly. You might find the time between pumps shorter than normal during mastitis. So just pump more often if you need to. (One of my friend was pumping every hour to get it unclogged.)
If you are breastfeeding and you still feel lumps in your breasts after feeding. Try to massage it out or pump for a bit to get the rest of the milk out.
Go See A Doctor
If you have a fever, you HAVE TO see a doctor. Mastitis is something you do not want to wait and see if it will go away by itself. A severe case of Mastitis will result in surgery. Because puss starts to build up in your breast, and the only way to drain it is via surgery. So you do not want to get to that stage.
In some mild cases of Mastitis, it will go away by itself in a day or two. However, if you have a fever, go to the doctor immediately. As you will need to take antibiotics to clear it.
Take Probiotics, Probiotics will help your breastmilk come out easier. This is especially important when you are on antibiotics.
Massage Your Breast During Pumping/Breastfeeding
Sometimes your blocked ducts are really stubborn, and you might need to help them along by massaging them out while pumping or breastfeeding.
Start from the outer breast and gently push towards the nipples. I will avoid pressing too hard, as you don't want to bruise your breast too. I hand express after pumping too if I feel like there are still quite a lot of milk inside.
Take a Hot Shower
If you are having trouble getting breastmilk out, chances are your ducts might be blocked. So take a hot shower or bath before pumping or feeding. This will help with your blood circulation, loosen your breast tissues making it easier for your breastmilk to come out.
If you can bare to pump and dump, massage and hand express the breastmilk out in the shower. I found this to be a very effective way to unclogged ducts.
Go for a Breast Lymphatic Massage
A breast lymphatic massage is a great way to help unblock clogged ducts and and ease away any pre mastitis symptom.
So what is breast lymphatic massage? It is a massage that focuses on lymphatic drainage of the breast and re-establishing flow of lymphatic fluid in your breast tissues. When your lymphs are blocked, your body retains toxins in your body, which causes swelling and bad circulation.
When I went for my breast lymphatic massage at Restoring Mums, they really helped me clear this massive lump in my breasts that didn't seem to want to budge. (It was honestly like the size of a small hard boiled egg.). It was so hard and painful that I didn't want anyone to touch me. I was even worried about people bumping into me, it was that painful.
I was expecting this massage to hurt like hell, but I was very pleasantly surprised that it didn't hurt at all. In fact, it was really nice and relaxing. They massaged my foot, neck, and chest area; they actually hardly massaged my boobs, only on the outskirts with hot compress.
After the treatment, I went home and pumped, and I was delighted that the lump disappeared after pumping. My breast was still sore, but at least the swelling was gone. I wish I went for this treatment earlier, as I feel it would have helped me prevent from getting mastitis. So next time if you feel like you are getting a clogged duct, try getting a lymphatic breast massage to clear it out. (It can be a little treat for yourself too.)
Hot and Cold Compress
Ok, I know this sounds contradicting, but you should use HOT compress BEFORE you feed/pump (same concept of having a hot shower), then COLD compress AFTER you finish feeding/pumping.
The hot compress helps open up your pores, milk glands, and milk ducts to have a better flow, while the cold compress helps reduce the swelling and tighten the milk glands. It basically helps give your body the signal that, that is enough and stop producing more breastmilk.
DO NOT do this the other way around.
I use a hot towel for hot compress, I wrap the hot towel around my boob for a few minutes before I pump or feed. For cold compress, I use a small can of soft drink and roll it on the swollen area for about 10 seconds. It is all about finding the right balance, so you might need to play around with it, to find what works best for you.
Sleep On Your Back
Avoid sleeping on your sides or stomach when you have mastitis, as you don't want to put pressure on your breasts. To be honest, I will be surprised if you can sleep on your front during mastitis, as it is so painful. I found sleeping on my back the most comfortable because I am relieving any pressure on my chest.
Drink Lots of Water
Mastitis is an infection, so drink lots of water to flush it out. By drinking more, you will also make your milk less sticky or thick, so the milk can come out easier.
I have always found rest is the best medicine. If you are feeling run down, it is your body telling you to rest. The more you rest the quicker it will go away. Although I know this is easier said than done when you are a mother.
I am sure you have all heard of the cabbage leaf bra. This has been a well-known remedy for decades, but why cabbage leaves, and how does it work?
A certain plant compound is found in cabbage leaves that have an anti-inflammatory effect on breast tissue when applied directly to your skin. That is why when you feel engorged or swelling in your breast, apply chilled cabbage leaves on your breasts to help relieves the pain.
Haakaa Epsom salt soak
I haven't personally tried this, but one of my mama friends recommended it. And if you already have a Haakaa pump at home, why not give it a try.
Here's how to do it:
Fill your Haakaa with enough warm water to make contact with your nipple. Make sure that the water is warm but not scalding hot as you don't want to burn yourself.
Add one or two tablespoons of Epsom Salts.
Attach your Haakaa to the blocked breast and allow the combination of heat, the salts and suction to help remove the clog.
Keep the pump attached for between 10-15 minutes. You may need to repeat several times for large and/or stubborn clogs.
Take a Hot Salt Bath
Similar theory to the Haakaa Epson Salt Soak. Taking hot salt baths worked wonders for me. This really helped with my Mastitis. Salt baths can help relieve inflammation and irritation. Not only is it good for relaxation, but it also helps with your circulation before you pump or breastfeed.
Most places advise you to use Epsom salt, but regular