Current DateSeptember 17, 2021

Mastitis: causes, symptoms and treatment

As the same word suggests, mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland in one or more of its quadrants or areas. Such inflammation is usually caused by obstruction of some lactiferous duct, in turn caused by alterations of the microbiota or bacterial flora that populates breast tissue.

Mastitis occurs most often within the first 12 weeks after delivery, although it may occur at any time during lactation, including the weeding period.

Who does it affect?

According to different studies, the incidence of mastitis varies and occurs in 4% to 27% of nursing mothers.

Causes

The proliferation of bacteria in breast tissue is usually the cause of obstruction of the duct or ducts in which mastitis occurs. In most cases, the presence of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus in the milk is what causes the duct to become clogged.

These types of bacteria create what is known as biofilms, which adhere, along with other molecules, to the walls of the breast ducts, hardening them, making them less flexible and therefore making it difficult for milk to flow. To better understand it, it can be compared to what happens in blood vessels when cholesterol rises.

Causes or factors that predispose to mastitis include:

  • Presence of cracks in the nipple.
  • Milk retention or incomplete breast drainage.
  • Treatment with antibiotics during pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum.
  • Abrupt change (decrease) in the frequency of breastfeeding.
  • Use of inappropriate or very tight fasteners and/or incorrect position when sleeping.

What types of mastitis are there and what symptoms do they have?

There are different types of mastitis:

  • Acute mastitis

This is the most well-known and easiest mastitis to diagnose, as it is accompanied by systemic symptoms:

  • Fever greater than 38.5 degrees Celsius or 101.3 Fahrenheit.
    • Chills.   
    • Severe chest pain.
    • Red area with bulges.
    • Influenza syndrome.
    • General discomfort.
  • Subclinical mastitis

This mastitis is more difficult to diagnose, as it does not produce symptoms as clear as acute mastitis. The main symptom is pain, more or less severe, which many women describe as punctures or needles that go through the entire chest. In some cases, cramps may even radiate to your back or arm along with a burning sensation. Because it is not accompanied by fever or redness of the area, this subclinical mastitis is usually undervalued and underdiagnosed.

What to do if I have mastitis?

In case of mastitis, the most important thing is to act as soon as possible; rapid action is key. In particular, the first thing to do in the first 24 hours is to perform a frequent and effective extraction of milk. If the mother has a lot of pain when breastfeeding the baby, extraction can be done with the help of a breast pump or even manually.

Also, it is advisable in a situation of mastitis to see a specialist to check if the baby’s suction is effective, and if not, the specialist can help with other milk extraction techniques.

In addition, other measures to treat mastitis include:

  • Application of cold in the affected area: heat should never be applied as it facilitates the proliferation of bacteria and increases inflammation.
  • Anti-inflammatory treatment such as ibuprofen, which will help lower the fever (in case of acute mastitis) and decrease inflammation.
  • Use of specific probiotics for lactation.
  • Antibiotics: If the above measures do not resolve or improve the mastitis, the doctor may establish an antibiotic treatment for 10 to 14 days.

Do I have to stop breastfeeding for mastitis or antibiotics?

Absolutely not. Otherwise, the more the baby suck on the affected breast, the sooner the blockage will resolve, and the inflammation will come down.

On the other hand, the vast majority of medicines and antibiotics are compatible with breastfeeding. Nonetheless, talk to your doctor.

What can be the complications of mastitis?

In general, a well-treated and resolute mastitis does not have to involve any complications or repeating itself over time. However, sometimes when mastitis is not treated well, certain situations can occur:

  • Repeat mastitis: occurs if the treatment is not the most suitable, if not taken completely or if the suction of the baby is still not. In these cases, the mother must be re-evaluated, and the cause of mastitis identified, because if treatment is repeated without re-evaluation, the cause will not be eliminated and the same situation will be repeated.
  • Abscess: is the result of poorly treated or ignored mastitis. It occurs when breast tissue reacts by trying to isolate mastitis-causing bacteria in a connective tissue capsule. Abscess often requires puncture and drainage in order to resolve it.
  • Involuntary and early abandonment of lactation: it is the most common complication in cases of mastitis. The misconception and misconception on the part of the women’s environment, whether at the personal or professional level, causes breastfeeding to cease and move to artificial breastfeeding.
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