If you are feeling run down, achy, have breast discomfort or pain, and are running a fever, then you are likely suffering a bout of mastitis. Mastitis is generally defined as any inflammation of the breast and can be caused by a plugged milk duct or by an infection. Continuing to breastfeed frequently, and resting with your baby in your bed, is the best treatment for your recovery from a plugged milk duct.
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You have a plugged milk duct if you notice a tender, sore lump in your breast or areola, and you do not have a fever. This means that a milk duct was not drained properly during nursing or pumping, pressure built up behind the plug, and caused inflammation in the surrounding breast tissue. Plugged milk ducts usually occurs in one breast, come on gradually, and may shift in location. With a plugged duct you will probably not feel any warmth in the area and you'll otherwise feel well. It is important to drain that spot thoroughly, to prevent further problems with the plugged duct.
However if your soreness or lump is accompanied by a fever 101 degrees or higher, flu-like symptoms, pain that comes on suddenly, and if your entire breast is red, hot and swollen, you have symptoms that indicate a bacterial infection in your breast. You may also experience nausea and vomiting, pus and blood in the milk, red streaks from the lump, and a cracked, pussy nipple. Consult a doctor (who is knowledgeable about lactation) immediately because you will probably require antibiotic medication.
Mastitis has several main causes. Here are also some tips to counter these causes:
- Poor Latch On, Ineffective Suck, Nipple Damage.
- If your nipple is misshapened after a feeding, if you have nipple pain, or if your baby is sleepy while nursing, then you have latch-on issues.
- Review Effective Latch Techniques or consult a La Leche Leader or Lactation Consultant for tips on waking a sleepy baby.
- Try using an ointment of one hundred percent lanolin, such as Lansinoh, on your nipples to relieve sore and cracked skin.
- such as a tight bra, or breast shells that leave an indentation on your breast, sleeping on your stomach, or
- a heavy diaper bag which has straps that constrain the breast.
- Stress, Fatigue, Illness, Anemia, Diabetes, Food Allergies
- these can all cause a weakened immune system and are proven to directly correlate to mastitis.
- Missed Feedings, Short Feedings.
- It is important to nurse your baby on demand. Watch the baby, not the clock. Frequent feeds are best for both you and your baby.
- Try not to limit your baby's time at the breast.
- Sleeping through the night should not be an immediate goal with a newborn. To go more than three hours will cause engorgement.
- Use of Pacifiers and Supplements
- When your baby's suckling and nutritional needs are met off the breast, then you may end up suffering from engorgement and mastitis.
- Overabundant Milk Supply.
- Your supply and demand ratio is out of balance, and your baby cannot empty your breasts.
- Try finishing the first breast before offering the other.
- Pumping briefly on the second side can relieve engorgement.
- Too much Saturated Fat or Sodium in your Diet.
- Take a lecithin supplement and eliminate fatty foods.
- Salty foods and soft drinks can cause water retention.
- Excessive Upper Body Exercise.
- Improper Use of a Breast Pump.
The best way to prevent plugged milk ducts is to prevent engorgement. Have your baby nurse directly from your breast, unless your baby is ill or was born prematurely and you need to use a high quality breast pump. When you become engorged, it is very difficult for a baby to latch on and suck effectively. Using your hand to express some milk is a gentle way of relieving some engorgement if you do not have access to a breast pump. And make sure that you own several well-fitting, supportive bras, to ensure that your milk flows freely through your breast. Keep your bras clean and dry.
Treating mastitis at home when the cause is plugged ducts is recommended, without medical treatment.
- Use wet or dry heat, frequent breastfeeding, and lots of rest.
- Take a warm bath, lie on the affected side, and completely submerge the sore breast.
- Use gentle massage on your breast, starting at the armpit, knead the lump using all of your fingers, working toward your nipple.
- Vary nursing positions.
- Make sure that whatever position your baby is nursing in, that he is latched on properly and the chin is well into the breast.
- Nurse frequently! Breastfeed especially on the affected side, make that the first side that he starts each session with.
- Nurse at least Every Two Hours, even overnight.
- Right after nursing, use some cold compresses if that is comfortable, then apply warm heat again for 15 minutes before nursing.
- REST. This is an important part of your treatment. Make sure that your husband understands this!
If your pain is unbearable, then consult with your doctor for a pain medication that is compatible with breastfeeding. Remember that a plugged duct and a bout of mastitis can temporarily cause a reduction in milk supply on that side. The treatment outlined above will cure this reduction in a few days to a week. Once your mastitis has cleared, your milk supply should return to normal.