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11 Things To Know About Mastitis, Every Breastfeeding Mom's Nightmare

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I don't think I got too worked up during my pregnancy about impending motherhood, but there was one thing that really sent me into a panic — breastfeeding. I was convinced I was going to have issues with it, that my baby wasn't going to take to it, and that it was going to be the hardest thing in the world. When I started researching things to know about mastitis? Oh man, I really worked myself up. Turns out, breastfeeding wasn't as difficult as I thought it was going to be, but I was lucky to avoid mastitis during my time as a breastfeeding mom.

If you're a breastfeeding mom or a mom-to-be doing her research, you've probably heard of mastitis and you're probably as terrified of it as I was. According to La Leche League International, mastitis is a breast infection and it sounds horrific. Usually affecting only one breast, mastitis can cause swelling, redness, and pain, as well as making your breast feel warm to the touch. In short? It really, really sucks.

KellyMom notes that mastitis can be caused by several situations, such as obstruction, infection, or allergies. It can come on abruptly, weakening your immunity and making you feel super fatigued. Just what every mom needs, right? The good news is, mastitis is preventable and treatable. Knowing that and these 11 things can help ease your fears about mastitis. Knowledge is power! (And so is a warm compress and frequent nursing, just FYI.)

1. It's Most Common In The First 6 to 12 Weeks

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According to the Mayo Clinic, mastitis is most common in the first six to 12 weeks of your child's life, but it can happen at any point during breastfeeding. During those early weeks, your little one is still getting on a schedule and your supply is constantly up and down to accommodate your baby, so it makes sense that you're at a risk for infection.

2. It Can Feel Like The Flu

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Oh, this is a real fun thing to know. Apparently mastitis can feel an awful lot like the flu,according to Mayo Clinic. You'll have symptoms similar to those you have when you have a clogged milk duct, but the pain, heat, and swelling is much more intense. Mastitis also typically comes with a fever of 101.3 degrees F or higher, chills, aching, fatigue, and overall flu-like weakness.

3. Cracked Nipples Increase Your Risk

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Although mastitis can be the name for any breast inflammation, What to Expect notes that cracked nipples can increase your risk for mastitis, as germs from your baby's mouth or the surface of your skin enter into your breast through the crack. Bacteria multiplies inside the crack of your nipple, causing an infection. A proper latch can help you avoid cracked nipples.

4. Once You've Had It, You're At A Greater Risk Of Catching It Again

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One huge risk of contracting mastitis is if you've had it before according to What to Expect. No one is exactly sure why it increases the risk, but Baby Center noted that repeated bouts of mastitis are due to the fact that you never fully get over the first infection, or that you aren't giving your body enough rest.

5. You Can Prevent It By Keeping Breasts Empty

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It sounds like the worst thing ever, but La Leche League International recommends nursing frequently to relieve the pain and offer you some comfort. The more breastfeeding you do, the more you'll reduce the inflammation in your breast and open up the clogged areas. You need to drain your breasts to get the infection to go away.

6. You Might Need Antibiotics To Treat It

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With mild symptoms, you can usually get over mastitis within 24 hours. But KellyMom notes that if the symptoms don't improve in 12 to 24 hours or you become seriously ill, you need to see a doctor about antibiotics. Like most antibiotics, you have to finish the treatment, even if you're feeling better, to keep your body resistant against mastitis. KellyMom also notes that you may need antibiotics immediately if your baby is less than two weeks old, if you have broken skin on the nipple with signs of infection, if your milk is bloody or has pus in it, and if your temperature increases suddenly. You should also call your doctor if you think you have mastitis in both breasts or if your symptoms are severe.

7. Breastfeeding Is Still Safe

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Remember when I told you that emptying your breasts is a great way to relieve yourself of pain? It's also totally safe for your baby. La Leche League International notes that you shouldn't worry about breastfeeding your baby while battling mastitis. The antibacterial properties in your milk protect your baby and your breast infection doesn't put them at risk. Breastfeeding should continue, no matter what treatments you're trying to get rid of it or how painful it may feel. It is honestly your best chance at recovery.

8. Your Milk May Look & Taste Different

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According to KellyMom, while you're fighting mastitis, your milk may taste saltier due to increased sodium and chloride content (your baby may fuss a bit at your breast due to this.) And if you pump, you may notice that your milk looks lumpy or "gelatin-like." It's totally safe for your baby, but if you feel more comfortable straining the clumps or stringy parts of the milk out, that's fine, too.

9. Tight Bras & Clothing Can Make It Worse

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Engorgement and blocked ducts can lead to mastitis, which means any pressure or constriction on your chest isn't going to help. Underwire in bras can actually press into the ducts of your breast, along with tight t-shirts or sports bras according to Baby Center. If you're sleeping on your stomach, that can also cause a milk back-up in your breasts and any unnecessary pressure, like a diaper bag strap, can also contribute to mastitis.

10. Heat & Breast Massages Can Help

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Massaging your breast before breastfeeding can be a huge help in emptying your breast completely, and heat can help speed your healing process along. La Leche League International also says wet or dry heat, such as a compress, hot water bottle, or heating pad, not only relaxes your breast, but can help move any dried milk blocking the flow of milk from your nipple. If you can, try breastfeeding while your breast is still warm to encourage the milk to flow.

11. You Need Lots Of Rest To Get Over It

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Now is not the time to be a superhero. If you're battling mastitis, you need rest and lots of it. La Leche League International notes that this is a huge part of your treatment plan and that you should go on bed rest, keeping your baby nearby, along with water and supplies such as diapers and toys. You'll want frequent nursing sessions anyway, but try hard not to get out of bed or move around. Mastitis already weakens you and makes you feel fatigued, so without the rest, you can't adequately heal.