Painful, swollen, and tender breast is not unusual for nursing mothers. Almost one in ten nursing mother suffers from this condition. This is what is known as mastitis in medical parlance. It involves an inflammation in the breast. The inflammation can be in the milk ducts or in breast tissue. But whichever may be the location, it is a painful condition. Moreover, if the mother is suffering from mastitis breastfeeding becomes a painful exercise for her. Let us get to know what causes, the symptoms and risks factors of this condition.
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Mastitis mostly occurs in the first few weeks of breastfeeding, but it can happen anytime while breastfeeding the baby. It may affect only one breast or both of your breasts. If it has affected only one breast, then it is a symptom of lactation mastitis. Lactation mastitis occurs due to poor drainage of milk in the milk ducts or back up of milk in the ducts. Whatever be the kind of mastitis, it has got some common symptoms. Moreover, these symptoms may appear suddenly.
You can have a feeling of tenderness or warmth to touch, a feeling of general malaise, a swelling of the breast, a burning or painful sensation mostly during breastfeeding, but also at other times, redness of skin, higher fever etc. You may also feel like you have caught a flu since you would most probably have high fever too. In fact, this feeling will prevail until you discover that the breast or breasts are feeling tender and swollen.
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Different causes of Mastitis
You may suffer from mastitis if you have either a blocked milk duct or a bacterial infection.
1} Blocked milk duct
You may have a blocked milk duct if one breast or both the breasts don’t empty completely during feedings. This may lead to clogging of one of the milk ducts which can cause milk to back up in them and give rise to breast infection. In fact, a major reason for mastitis in first time mothers is wrong breast-feeding technique. Breast feeding is a skill and poor technique may lead to trapping of milk in the breast.
2} Bacterial infection
You may also suffer from this condition if there is a bacterial infection in your breast tissue. This may happen in new mothers since they are new to breastfeeding. Bacterial infection from the skin of the mother’s breast can pass on to the baby thorough its mouth and in turn can enter the milk ducts of the mother if there is a break or crack in the nipple skin. The bacteria may even enter through openings of the milk duct on the nipple. Once the bacteria have entered your breast they find a good habitat in the stagnant milk of your breast. This is possible since milk is not emptied fully as you are just learning the techniques of breast feeding. This provides a breeding ground for the bacteria. The saving grace is that the antibacterial property of mother’s milk helps in protecting babies from such bacteria.
Risk factors for nursing mothers
There are some risk factors for mastitis breastfeeding mothers must be aware of. Since many nursing mothers do suffer from mastitis, it is a good idea to have an overall awareness about the risk factors for this condition.
1} Breast feeding too early
You may have mastitis if you have started breastfeeding during the first few weeks of childbirth. This is mainly due to the fact that first time mothers are completely aware of the breast feeding techniques.
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2} Sore Nipples
Cracked or sore nipples are one of the most common risk factors for mastitis, although a broken skin can also give rise to this condition.
3} Breast feeding in one position
A common, but seemingly innocuous reason for mastitis is using only one position for breast feeding. When you are using only one position you may not fully drain your breasts. This may abate stagnation of milk.
4} Uncomfortable inner wear
If you wear tight fitting bra or do things like using seat belts that put pressure on your breast, you may hamper the flow of milk in the milk ducts. This may give rise to mastitis.
5} Other risks
If you are very tired or stressed, suffer from poor nutrition or have suffered from mastitis previously, then too you are at the risk of mastitis.
Whatever be the risk, once the condition is detected it needs to be treated accordingly, otherwise you may develop abscess in your breast which may require surgical drainage. So as soon as you feel mastitis symptoms do talk to your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment can save you and your baby from harassment.