Hands up breastfeeding mamas, who’s suddenly noticed your boob hurts, its super red and you're crashing bad with a fever? You’re googling your symptoms (hey, maybe that’s how you found this article?) and it’s sinking in that it’s probably mastitis. The fear and panic sets in, you’ve heard other mums talk about how horrible and sick they were and you don’t want that for yourself. And now you have more questions than ever. Here’s what breastfeeding women need to know about mastitis:
- What it REALLY is. Mastitis is inflammation of the breast. Inflammation begins when milk flow becomes stagnant and stuck in the ducts. All that advice on draining the breast if you have mastitis? That’s why. If milk backs up quite a lot, on a small cell level, milk then gets pushed back into the breast tissue. The body knows this isn’t normal, so it starts a process to manage this. This process is thought to mimic an infection, so that is why women experience fever, flu like symptoms, redness and pain. Sometimes, mastitis can be an infection. This happens when bacteria enters the area, such as through cracked nipples.
- The timeline for recovery. Like ANY illness, there is a general timeline to recover from it. We know how long cold and flu symptoms might last, and yet most breastfeeding women do not know that mastitis has a very specific timeline to recover too. Usually, your symptoms will peak within 24-48 hours. Symptoms can come on quite rapidly (sometimes within 30 mins!). If symptoms don’t show any signs of improvement after this time, or even worsen, then it’s time for further care from your GP. But if you do see signs that you are getting better, remember, it can take a good week to feel 100% again. It is important to note that if your symptoms are extreme, (we are talking delirium & vomiting) then help from a GP or even the hospital should be considered right away.
- Antibiotics is a common treatment approach, and yet they don’t always work. Why? Like we said above, mastitis is inflammatory. If the process is purely inflammatory, and there is no bacterial infection, then antibiotics won’t be effective. Knowing which is which is difficult though, so your GP may err on the side of caution and prescribe them. This is understandable and appropriate, but also explains why they don’t work for every woman, and how it can leave you feeling like nothing will get you better! And even if they do appear to work, remember that timeline above? It is expected that you will see signs of improvement within 12-24 hours of symptoms peaking anyway. Antibiotics are definitely appropriate when you are showing very severe symptoms, worsening symptoms after that timeframe or hey, even if you just need some support from your GP and peace of mind. The WHO guidelines and the research out there supports this, however, unfortunately only 40% of health care professionals understand breastfeeding (Parwati et al). There is still much to be learned about mastitis.
- Finally, YOU CAN SELF MANAGE YOUR SYMPTOMS! Remember how we said mastitis is an inflammatory illness? We can help our bodies to deal with this inflammation and to move that fluid on! Antibiotics are always available for those nasty cases, but massage and breast tissue health is our secret sauce in helping women recover from mastitis. Yes, we know every page on google already says to massage. And no, deep tissue sports massage toward to nipple isn’t it. Take it from us osteopaths, with over 25 years of hands on experience. So let’s start with gentle massage ladies! This is the 1st step that we teach women in our online Boobology course and at The Melbourne Mastitis Clinic. It’s really specific massage, that has deep ties to our anatomy, structure and function. And there is a formula to it, much like taking medication. But if you have hands, you’ll be able to do this no worries. So let’s not panic, help your body do what it’s designed to do, so you can get back to breastfeeding bliss!
Author: Elise Fuller
Osteopath & Your Two Jugs Co-Founder
Elise Fuller & Katie Willy
Osteopaths & Your Two Jugs Co-Founders
Elise & Katie are Melbourne based osteopaths who have been actively treating breastfeeding women in clinic since 2015. During 2020 lockdown they launched their company Your Two Jugs to educate more women about how to treat their own breastfeeding conditions. Their online video based course, Boobology, is available now with heaps of education and hands on techniques to teach women the do’s & don’ts for mastitis, blocked ducts & engorgement. More recently, Your Two Jugs launched a full health care practitioner course, called The Boob Hero, to educate manual therapists on their contribution to supporting breastfeeding women with hands on care. Empowerment all starts with education, and the more support available for women, the better.