7 Effortless Secrets to Avoiding Mastitis
Images of breastfeeding make it look easy and effortless. And for some, it is. For many though, it’s a learned process for both mother and baby. Swimming is just as natural as breastfeeding, but it helps to have some support and instruction in that, too.
Anyone who has felt the flu-like symptoms of Mastitis, including the deep muscle aches, fever or chills, nausea, breast soreness, exhaustion and more, is usually quick to warn others of the early signs so that nobody else needs to experience that pain.
The swelling, red, hard-to-the-touch area on the breast that signals Mastitis usually begins with a clogged duct that becomes infected or with cracked nipples that allow bacteria to enter the breast.
Unfortunately, one of the features of our industrialized society is that new mothers are often isolated from extended family and friends, leaving them with no support network.
As Postpartum doulas, we see the early signs often and can help new mothers take action to avoid the red, burning pain of Mastitis, and here are some tips we share:
1. Avoid wearing an underwire or tight fitting bra or top
Mastitis can begin with a clogged milk duct, so avoiding anything that puts pressure on the ducts is advisable. That means sleeping on your side or back, also.
2. Soothe sore or cracked nipples
Most women’s nipples aren’t accustomed to this much activity, so chapped skin is common. However, cracked or bleeding nipples are NOT something to just be expected, and endured. Nurture tender nipples so that you can comfortably nurture your little one. One of the best ways to soothe the nipple tissue is to express a small amount of breastmilk, spread it around the areola and let it air dry. Want more soothing tips? Check out some great nipple creams.
3. Nurse often
Emptying the breast with each feeding is important, but that doesn’t necessarily mean marathon breastfeeding sessions all day, every day. Yes, your baby will hit some foreseeable growth milestones (3 weeks, 6 weeks, 9 weeks, 3 months, 6 months) which will necessitate an occasional day here and there of marathon feeding in order to increase your milk supply, but it doesn’t mean that you need to be connected at the breast all day, every day.
What it DOES mean is that you should not skip a feeding or space them out too far. Engorged breasts often lead to clogged ducts, so let baby keep those pathways clear. Position baby so that her chin is pointed toward a suspected clogged duct because that’s where she’ll draw the milk from with the greatest force. This may require some “gym-nurstics.”
4. Drink plenty of water
Your body is working hard to produce this liquid gold, and it needs to be replenished with water. Not coffee (which can be overly drying and inhibit the little sleep you’re able to get), and not soda (which can also be overly drying and fill you with empty calories). Drink pure, clean water. And lots of it!
5. Supplement with Vitamin C and Echinacea
Your care provider may have already recommended that you continue taking your prenatal vitamin as long as you’re nursing, and your baby’s pediatrician may have already recommended that you be taking additional Vitamin D to increase your baby’s levels of the vitamin. Vitamin C and Echinacea are immunity builders and can help your body fight off the bacteria that causes Mastitis. Talk with your care provider about any supplements, and how they impact you and your baby.
6. Compress clogged ducts
A clogged duct feels like a small frozen pea under the skin. If you notice a clog, apply a warm compress or washcloth, or take a warm shower, and compress the spot until it softens. Then put baby to breast and let baby do the rest!
And speaking of rest –
7. Get as much sleep as possible
The old adage to “sleep when the baby sleeps” has stuck around for so many years because the importance of new mothers getting as much sleep as possible cannot be overstated. Your body has gone through an intense experience and is changing and healing — it needs to be nurtured. Exhausted, sleep deprived mothers are at higher risks of infection, illness, postpartum depression and more.
If “sleeping when the baby sleeps” is a phrase that makes you want to scream, you’re not alone. Many women are not able to fully relax and enjoy their postpartum healing time because there are just simply too many things to do. A postpartum doula takes care of a lot around the house to help you have a peaceful recovery.
If that small clogged duct just isn’t dissolving, and it turns red, hard, painful and hot, involve your care provider right away. It’s much easier to treat Mastitis early than to suffer through the rock-hard breasts of fire and pain that make breastfeeding torturous for you and frustrating for baby.
And if each nursing session involves a sharp toe-curling pain that reminds you of glass or other items that you would never want to even mention in the same sentence as breasts, you should talk to your care provider about that as well. Sharp pain is characteristic of Thrush, which can sometimes go hand-in-hand with Mastitis and needs to be treated by a care provider also.
Challenges like Mastitis and Thrush are not uncommon, but that doesn’t mean that you have to expect or endure them. Remember, breastfeeding is a natural skill, but so is swimming. And it helps to have a little support and instruction when you’re learning both of those skills. Eventually, challenges are overcome! Breastfeeding can be a beautiful and bonding experience for you and your baby.