Breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed our babies. Mothers are encouraged to engage in exclusive breastfeeding for their babies because breast milk contains all the essential nutrients a baby needs to grow strong and healthy. Not only is breastfeeding the cheapest form of infant feeding, it is also a beautiful way for a mother and her child to bond.
However, this experience may be a very painful one for some mothers causing them to avoid breastfeeding completely.
The breast is made up of various glands and ducts that grow during puberty to form an obvious pair of protruding flesh on a woman’s chest. The mammary glands are responsible for milk production and are connected to the breast surface by the lactiferous duct or milk duct.
What Is Mastitis?
Mastitis is a breast infection that causes painful inflammation of the breast tissues. It mostly occurs during the first three months of breast feeding, but it can also occur after breast feeding, after menopause, and on rare occasions in men. Mastitis affect only one breast at a time, only on rare occasions have there been reports of pains in the second breast. Mastitis requires no tests for diagnosis except in cases where the patient is not a breastfeeding mother, or the patent is a man.
What Are the Possible Causes of Mastitis?
Mastitis is caused by entry of bacteria into the milk duct through an injury or skin breakage in the nipple. This can happen when bacteria from the child’s mouth or when any of the bacteria commonly found in the skin gets into the nipples through the skin breakage and multiplies itself. Other causes include taking long intervals between breast feeding sessions, skipping breast feeding sessions, allowing the breasts to become too full of breast milk, the baby sucking only one breast and hardly sucking the other, incomplete emptying of the milk ducts which leads to clogging. Putting on tight clothing and poorly fitting bra are also possible causes as they cause irritation and disrupt blood flow in the breasts. Because breast milk contains a large amount of anti-bacteria, mothers with mastitis need not worry about passing the infection to their children during breastfeeding.
For non-breastfeeding women mastitis can be caused by introducing foreign objects to the breast tissues. Things like contaminated or infected breast implants, piercings, and tattoos can lead to mastitis and will have to be removed in such cases. Staphylococcus aureus is the bacterium most often responsible for mastitis.
Who Is Vulnerable to Mastitis Infection?
Asides lactating mothers, smokers, non-lactating women and people with weak immune system can have mastitis. This kind of mastitis is called periductal mastitis. Women who are aging can also be victims of mastitis as the milk ducts begin to shorten and widen with the aging of the breasts. This shortening and widening process is called duct estacia.
Females between the ages of 18 to 45 who smoke are susceptible to mastitis. Although the reason why this happens has not been ascertained, it is however assumed that there are toxins in tobacco that provide a favourable environment for bacteria growth when combined with the blood vessel constriction produced by nicotine.
Symptoms of mastitis
The symptoms of mastitis could mimic your regular flu. Typical mastitis symptoms include pains in the breasts, cold, tiredness, a higher than normal body temperature like that of a fever. Other symptoms are itchiness and redness, breast tenderness and sensitivity, lumps in breast, hotness in breast tissues, a change in the colour of breast milk from white to a watery almost teal colour, and puss discharge from nipples.
Mothers are encouraged to continue breast feeding when they have mastitis as it is still safe to breast feed except when they notice a discharge of pus. However, lactatic mothers living with the HIV virus are at a high risk of passing the virus to their suckling babies if they breastfeed while they have mastitis.
How to Treat Mastitis?
Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics for treatment of mastitis but only in cases of periductal mastitis. The use of antibiotics by lactating mothers to treat mastitis is usually discouraged because of the baby but there are other ways mastitis can be treated at home.
When you feel a mole or painful lump in your breast it is best to start massaging it immediately because it most likely is a lump of milk clogging a milk duct/ massaging usually is painful, but it is better to endure the pain of massaging one lump and clearing it out of the clogged spot than having many lumps cause you more pain.
Treat Sore Nipple
Immediately you notice a breakage or sore in your nipple, you should treat at once without hesitation to prevent an infection. Breast milk itself is a good treatment for such sores.
Taking supplements to boost your immune system is not a curative but a preventive measure against mastitis. These supplements are meant to help your body build strong defences against a wide range of infections
Breastfeed as Often as Possible
Breastfeed your baby at the slightest chance you get. This will help you drain your breasts and prevent clogging of your milk ducts.
Feed with Both Breasts Equally
While it is humanly impossible to comfortably feed a child with both breasts at the same time, it is however, possible to alternate breasts each time you feed your child so that one breast doesn’t suffer neglect and become too full. If you breastfeed with your right breast now, breastfeed with your left breast the next time you feed your baby
Pump Your Breasts
You can pump out excess breast milk from your breast by using a hand or electric pump to expel excess liquid and unclog your milk ducts.
Take a hot bath or simply soak a face towel in hot tap water and press against your breasts. Heat aids the flow of blood around your breads and also helps your breast milk flow more freely by melting lumps of milk clogging your milk ducts.
Avoid Tight Things
This is very important. Avoid wearing tight bras and clothing that put any form of pressure on your breasts.
IF you notice any form of smell in the discharge from your breasts you are advised to see your doctor for proper attention.