Preventing Mastitis

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated August 10, 2013.

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Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast.  A third of breastfeeding women experience mastitis at some point, with the vast majority occurring by three months postpartum. 1 However, mastitis can occur at any point during lactation, and there are many things a mother can do to help prevent it occurring.

Below are ten important things all breastfeeding mothers should do for good lactation management; all of which will help to prevent mastitis too.

  1. Educate yourself about breastfeeding while you are pregnant: babies should be fed on cue and not on a prescribed schedule; newborns eat all the time and should have frequent, unrestricted access to breastfeeding; every mother’s breast storage capacity is different so it is best to feed on baby’s cues, etc.
  2. Find a qualified lactation consultant in your area before you have problems and don’t hesitate to contact her if you have any concerns/questions …or even for one-on-one time with an expert to make sure you are doing everything right! (Many insurance plans are beginning to cover services for an IBCLC; even if yours doesn’t, getting qualified support so you can breastfeed is much more cost effective than buying formula and higher healthcare costs.)
  3. Practice 24-hour rooming in and lots of skin-to-skin time with your baby – all of which helps mom respond to baby’s early feeding cues, reduces skipped feeds, and aids in frequent nursing and breast drainage.
  4. Avoid pacifiers, bottles, and artificial teats. Babies have a desire to suckle and if this need is met elsewhere, such as with pacifiers, it can lead to missed feeds, full breasts, plugged ducts, and mastitis.
  5. Understand and recognize early warning signs of mastitis and proactively treat them if they occur.  When you notice full breasts or milk stasis, be extra diligent in nursing your baby frequently to ensure milk stasis turns into milk removal and not a plugged duct.
  6. Use breast massage if you have a plugged duct to enhance milk flow and remove the clogged milk.
  7. Express milk and/or use breast massage if baby is not feeding effectively for whatever reason.  You may have a premature baby or an older baby who has a cold and doesn’t want to nurse much for a few days. No matter the reason, make sure to express milk if baby’s lack of effective milk removal is temporary.
  8. Take note of changes in a baby’s feeding rhythms. If baby begins to sleep longer stretches at night, mother may need to express a little milk for comfort as her body begins to adjust. Perhaps your baby is beginning to eat a lot of solids and isn’t nursing as often during the day; take care to ensure your breasts don’t become so uncomfortably full it could turn into mastitis.
  9. Use common sense approaches for good health so your body is better able to adjust pathogens it does come in contact with: accept all offers of help; get adequate rest (perhaps you consider bed sharing for example); eat a healthy diet; wash your hands; and take care that bras, purse straps, and/or slings are not pressing into your breasts, which can lead to milk stasis and mastitis.
  10. Be especially diligent if previous history. If you have had mastitis before, including while nursing previous children, or if you have had breast surgery it is critical that you are extremely diligent to prevent milk stasis and plugged ducts from occurring. Ensure your baby has excellent positioning and attachment at the breast. Listen to your body and don’t hesitate to seek lactation support!

Show 1 footnote

  1. World Health Organization. (2000). Mastitis: Causes and management. Geneva, Switzerland.
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