So you have a baby – yay! She’s cute, you’re pumping for her, everything is good: and then you get mastitis. Mastitis, in short, is terrible – you are knocked down as if you have the flu (complete with a fever, chills, and pain), your boob feels like it’s going to explode, and oh, you still have to take care of a baby and pump every few hours.
I was lucky enough to not get mastitis with my son, but I got it twice with my daughter. Here is everything you need to know about how to prevent and treat mastitis when you are exclusively pumping.
What is mastitis?
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast. Generally speaking, it has two causes: obstruction of milk coming out of the breast (essentially, a clogged duct), or infection. Mastitis that is caused by obstruction can lead to infection, so it can be one or both that is causing the issue.
How can I tell if I have mastitis?
There are two kinds of symptoms – those specific to your breast and those that affect all of you.
Your breast (the affected one – normally mastitis only hits one breast at a time) will feel painful and very tender to the touch. Sometimes you can feel a lump, which is likely the clogged duct that caused the mastitis. You may see red streaks on your breast, and it might be warm and a bit swollen.
The rest of you will feel as though you have the flu, minus the nasal congestion – generally, if you have mastitis, you’ll have a fever, chills, and aches. (I also had a dull headache and what I would describe as “general malaise”: I just did not feel well. That was the only way I could describe it.)
How do I treat mastitis?
If your symptoms have been present for less than 24 hours, only one breast is affected, your baby is more than two weeks old, and you are not acutely ill, you should rest as much as you can, pump as much as you can, drink a lot of fluids, and take ibuprofen for your breast pain.
Regarding pumping as often as you can – the goal is to keep the breast causing the mastitis as empty as possible. Use a warm compress on your breast before you pump. (If it makes it easier to get more pumping sessions in, you can hook yourself up for some sessions on just the affected side. Just make sure you don’t forget about the other side and get yourself a double case of mastitis.)
It can be painful to pump on the affected side, especially in the beginning before letdown. Try hooking yourself up to pump only on the good side (cover the “bad” side with a breast pad or something) and then hook up the affected side after letdown. Then make sure you empty the “bad” side by doing breast compressions.
If your symptoms have been present for more than 24 hours, both breasts are affected (you poor thing), your baby is less than two weeks old, or you are very sick, call your doctor. (You can call your OB/midwife or primary care doctor, whatever you prefer). It is likely that he or she will put you on an antibiotic, usually for 10-14 days. You should also continue to rest and keep your breasts as empty as you can.
Untreated mastitis can lead to an abscess (which can require surgery to resolve), so be sure to call your doctor if you feel sick for more than 24 hours or are really ill.
How can I make sure that this never happens to me and my boobs again?
To avoid mastitis as an exclusive pumper, your best bet is to avoid obstruction of milk ducts (i.e., clogged ducts) by sticking to a pumping schedule and making sure that you empty your breasts completely. (Unless you are weaning – while weaning you should stick to a schedule but not empty your breasts, just very gradually decrease the amount that is “left” in them after pumping.) In addition, if you do get a clogged duct, do everything you can to clear it before it becomes mastitis.
If you are prone to getting mastitis only in one breast, one option is to wean from just the affected breast and continue pumping on your other side.
Have you had mastitis? Share your tale of woe with us.