If there's one thing breastfeeding moms dread, it's developing a painful case of mastitis. It can strike any time, leaving a mama in a huge amount of discomfort. If you're that mama, you're no doubt wondering: How long does mastitis last?
I spoke with certified lactation consultant Heather McFadden to understand what exactly mastitis is, and why some moms develop it more frequently than others. McFadden explains that it all starts with breast milk not being emptied. "A common cause of mastitis is from a build up of milk in the breast from lack of stimulation, by going long hours without draining the breasts, or if baby is not efficient at removing milk," she says. When a milk duct gets clogged, the tissue around it can become inflamed — making it even more difficult to unclog. You might notice that your breast is warm to the touch or see a patch of red skin — often in a wedge shape, according to the Mayo Clinic. Combined with engorgement, and painful, hard spots on your breast, and you're probably dealing with a blockage.
For some moms, the pain will go away as soon as that blockage is cleared — some extra nursing or pumping sessions can usually do the trick. Warm compresses and hot showers can help, too. But if inflammation kicks, you're probably looking at full-blown mastitis — and McFadden says a trip to the doctor is likely in order. "When there are additional symptoms, such as fever or chills, extreme fatigue and weakness, headache and flu like symptoms, there is likely an infection. If symptoms persist beyond 24 hours, it important to call the doctor to get an antibiotic." An antibiotic can provide some much needed relief within 24 to 48 hours of starting your prescription, and McFadden notes that they're typically safe for your breastfed baby (though it's always a good idea to double check with your doctor).
Research cited by Kelly Mom indicates that about 20 percent of breastfeeding moms will deal with a case of mastitis at some point. While it's more common in the early days of breastfeeding, it can occur at any point. Unfortunately, some moms are more likely to deal with this painful problem than others. "Moms who have damaged nipples from a poor latch are more susceptible to contracting mastitis," according to McFadden.
There are a few things you can do to decrease your odds of getting mastitis. Healthline recommends moms drain their breasts frequently, ensure their baby has a proper latch, and avoid wearing tight fitting bras. McFadden also tells moms not to overdo it with the breast pump. While pumping can help clear up a blockage, it can also send a signal to your body to produce even more milk.
As painful and frustrating as battling through a bout of mastitis can be, McFadden wants moms to know that it definitely doesn't have to signal the end of the breastfeeding relationship. "Don’t wean," she urges. "At this time the breasts need frequent stimulation and milk removal in order to recover from the infection." If you can tough it out for a couple of days, you can get back to pain-free breastfeeding in no time.
Heather McFadden, certified lactation consultant