Many of us have experienced it - the rest of us definitely fear it. Mastitis is quite a common concern for breastfeeding and pumping mothers; and can often be a cause of early cessation of breastfeeding/pumping. Mastitis encompasses a spectrum of conditions resulting from inflammation of the ducts and swelling of the breast tissue. When ductal narrowing persists or worsens and the surrounding inflammation progresses, inflammatory mastitis develops, leaving you with symptoms such as breast swelling, tenderness and redness.
Mastitis can present in different ways for different women, so here are some common symptoms to look out for:
A fever is a common symptom of both inflammatory and infective mastitis, and may range from mild to severe. Some women may not experience fever with mastitis, which is why it’s so important to be aware of all the possible symptoms.
Some women with mastitis experience symptoms similar to the flu, such as fatigue, body aches, and chills. It is quite common that women feel they are getting sick before they realise that they have mastitis.
The affected area may feel like a hard, painful lump (that’s you feeling the inflammation and ductal narrowing in a specific spot). However, just because there is no lump does not mean that you can’t have mastitis. Some people may just have mild redness of the breast and tenderness.
Milk production changes
Mastitis can also cause a decrease in milk production or the production of milk that is thicker or has a different consistency than normal. You may notice this while pumping or if your baby is suddenly fussing at the affected breast.
When to get support
It's important to seek prompt medical attention if breast redness continues spreading or systemic symptoms (such as fever) persist for more than 24 hours. Your healthcare provider will be able to provide appropriate treatment, which may include antibiotics, pain relief medication, and advice on managing breastfeeding.
Sometimes everything is normal
Lactating breasts can feel ‘‘lumpy’’ and even painful at times and although this is uncomfortable, it is not always abnormal or a reason to be alarmed. Early in postpartum your hormones are shifting which may predispose patients to hot flashes/flushes and sweating and that may mimic fevers. If you are ever in doubt always seek medical attention. See your lactation consultant - this is not medical advice.