If you are breastfeeding and you happen to come down with the breast infection mastitis you may wonder if you can breastfeed with mastitis? Well the answer is yes, you should keep on breastfeeding, and it may help you recover quickly as well. Cutting back on breastfeeding during mastitis is actually a bad idea despite the fact that you may feel horrible.
Mastitis is when the breast tissue becomes inflamed and swollen which can lead to infection. It can occur when not breastfeeding but is most common in breastfeeding women. I have had it twice, both times with my first baby, so I am pretty familiar with it and want to share my signs and symptoms.
In general, you are more likely to get mastitis if you are a first time mom and in the first few weeks postpartum. It can be caused by engorgement, plugged milk ducts, milk that is not emptying the breast properly, or when a damaged or cracked nipple allows germs into the breast which cause an infection.
Signs and symptoms
Signs include swelling and inflammation in the affected breast (usually just one at a time thank goodness), pain or tenderness in the inflamed area, sometimes the breast will appear red or have red streaks, you may be able to feel a plugged milk duct and the breast may feel warm. When it turns into an infection you may feel run down and like you have the flu. A fever over 101 indicates an infection.
While you can try to treat mastitis at the first signs at home, you should contact a doctor if you have a fever or feel flu like symptoms. Usually antibiotics will be needed in this case.
The best way to treat mastitis is to continues breastfeeding on the affected side very frequently. The more you drain the milk out the better. It may hurt to nurse but keep doing it if you can. Ibuprofen can help with the inflammation. Warm compresses and heat like a hot shower also can help with the pain. It's recommended that if these techniques do not help you feel better within 24 hours or you develop a fever to contact your doctor for antibiotics.
I have had mastitis twice. Despite it being more common early postpartum, I got it for the first time when my first baby was 5 months so it really can happen anytime.
The first time I got mastitis was right after I got home from a beach trip. I had been wearing my bathing suit a lot instead of nursing bras. The second time I got it was after traveling by plane to Arizona where I wore a sports bra a lot when walking/hiking. Was it a coincidence that I got mastitis both times when traveling and when wearing constricting items instead of my normal nursing bras? I don't think it was but who knows for sure. Both times it started as feeling very engorged. I never noticed a plugged duct or any other early signs.
I felt engorged first, then run down and tired, then I noticed the warmth and redness of the breast after I already had a fever. It quickly progressed to having a fever for me both times. Since I noticed engorgement before any other symptom I did not realize it was mastitis right away either time. I thought since I was traveling I was just engorged from erratic nursing schedules. The second case actually developed while I was flying across the country. I nursed my baby a ton on the plane but started to notice the breast always felt full. By the time I arrived home I felt awful and sick. I called my doctor the next morning and started antibiotics.
In both cases I started to feel better hours after starting antibiotics. The meds along with tons of breastfeeding and warm compresses really helped quickly. While you may not feel like breastfeeding if you feel very sick it really does help and there is no harm to your baby at all. You may want to start a pro-biotic once you feel better since antibiotics can lead to yeast infections/thrush.
It's important to catch mastitis and treat it early. Left untreated it can lead to infection and eventually possibly a breast abscess. Definitely continue to breastfeed through it, this will help you heal more quickly. Antibiotics are usually needed and it will clear up quickly once you start. Mastitis is a challenge that some women have to deal with while breastfeeding but with proper treatment you can resolve it quickly. Definitely do not stop nursing but get the rest and treatment you need. Please let me know if you have any questions about breastfeeding through mastitis at all!