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What the $*%# is mastitis and how do you avoid it?

Mastitis is a pain in the a*s. (Or boob, should we say.) 

It’s probably something you don’t anticipate getting when you think about your breastfeeding journey, and it’s definitely something you don’t need on your plate. (Hell, we know you’ve barely got time to shower, let alone fend off an infection.)

So, we spoke to Susie Prout, a Registered Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, to get the low down on mastitis and – most importantly – how to avoid it. 

A quick mastitis 101

Before we jump in, here’s the lowdown on what mastitis is and who can get it. 

Simply put, mastitis is an inflammation of the breast. (Anyone else’s boobs hurt reading that?) 

Susie told us it can happen to any breastfeeding woman, no matter how long they’ve been breastfeeding for (we wouldn’t want anyone missing out). Though, she flagged, it can be most prevalent amongst:

  • Mothers of newborns – because, according to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, although breastfeeding is natural, it’s learned (both of you – mama and baby – are working it out).
  • Those whose babies might have problems latching to the breast. 

Causes of mastitis 

The causes of mastitis include: 

A blocked milk duct 

This, according to Susie, is the most common precursor to mastitis (yay). 

Our (incredible AF) boobs are made up of many different anatomic parts, including milk ducts, which are tiny tubes that carry milk from your glandular tissue to your nipples. 

Unfortunately, those hard-working ducts can become blocked with milk. And Susie explained that if the milk isn’t removed, it can lead to mastitis. 

Some scenarios that might cause ducts to become blocked are when: 

  • Your baby isn’t feeding regularly, causing your breasts to become too full.
  • Your baby isn’t draining your boobs during feeding (thanks to latching troubles or illness, for example).  
  • Your pump isn’t taking all the milk out of your breast (e.g., due to fit issues – a breast pump needs to fit you well to work effectively and be comfortable). 
  • Your bra is too tight. 
  • You’ve had pressure from a seatbelt across your breasts.
  • You’ve held your boobs too tightly during feeding. 

Nipple damage

Well, aren’t those just two words you never wanted to hear associated with your boobs. But, it can happen. (Isn’t breastfeeding a wild ride?)

Here’s what occurs in Susie’s experience:

  • Your baby might have problems latching   
  • Your nipple might become damaged and, in the process, cracked
  • Bacteria can enter through the broken skin of your cracked nipple and travel up into your breast, causing infection.

The joys of motherhood, right?

But before you have a full-blown panic attack, mama, know there are things you can do to prevent mastitis. 

Ways to avoid mastitis 

For Susie, good breastfeeding positioning and attachment, as well as constantly checking for blocked ducts – and removing them promptly – is your best prevention. 

Specifically: 

  • Drain those boobies. Feed or pump often and make sure your little one or pump is well attached. Alternate boobs during feeds and use different positions. Get that milk out however you can. And see a Lactation Consultant if you need help with latching or positioning.
  • Massage your ta-tas. Gently, of course. This can help keep the milk flowing through those ducts.
  • Take good care of your nipples. Wash them daily with soap, let them air dry after feeds, and treat your ladies to some nipple balm. If you notice they’re getting sore or are cracking, speak to a Lactation Consultant or doctor to help work out the cause (likely a positioning or latching issue). 

It’s essential to recognize the signs of mastitis and, if you suspect you have it, to treat it ASAP. Of course, if you are concerned or start to feel unwell, seek medical attention.

And remember, mama, it’s common, and it’s not a sign you’ve done something wrong or that you’ve failed at breastfeeding. It’s a (literal) bump in the road, but you’ve got this! 

Have you had mastitis? If so, what happened? Tell us in the comments, mama. 


Expert contributor: Susie Prout

Susie is a Registered Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Susie lives in Perth with her husband and 3 small children. She runs a private lactation consultancy business as well as an online Breastfeeding Sucess Membership and program to teach new mamas and pregnant ladies how to successfully breastfeed with ease.

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