Summer Dawn Pointer, a woman from Georgia, was breastfeeding her five-week-old son, when she discovered a red knot on her right breast, causing pain. Pointer was reportedly diagnosed with mastitis and was immediately asked by the doctors to stop breastfeeding.
Mastitis commonly affects breastfeeding women. According to WHO, around 10 per cent of breastfeeding women globally are diagnosed with mastitis.
So, what is mastitis? Express Parenting got in touch with gynaecologist, obstretician and director of Cloud Nine Hospital, Dr Pratibha Singhal to find out more about the condition. “Mastitis is an inflammation or an infection of the breast. It is more common among lactating mothers although it can happen to regular women too, who are not pregnant or breastfeeding. In case of women who are not lactating, mastitis is relatively easier to handle since the breast is not active as they are not breastfeeding. So, the inflammation can be controlled,” Dr Singhal explained.
Symptoms of mastitis
The symptoms of mastitis usually include swelling of breasts, redness and pain in the breast, and also high fever.
What causes mastitis?
A woman can get mastitis if she has had an injury or a fall. “Breast tissue has a lot of fat and an injury may also result in fat necrosis (dead or damaged breast tissue which may develop within the breast, often presenting as a lump). Fat necrosis can lead to inflammation of the breast, causing a condition called mastitis,” said Dr Singhal.
In the case of a woman who has just delivered and is breastfeeding, mastitis can happen if there is a lot of secretion of milk and the breast is not getting emptied at regular intervals. “That means, either the lactating woman is not feeding the baby or she is producing much more milk than the baby can consume. In such cases, the milk accumulates in the ducts of the breast. Milk is a rich culture media for bacteria. Once the milk gets accumulated, it gets infected and leads to mastitis,” Dr Singhal added.
How to treat mastitis
Mastitis can be treated by preventing excess accumulation of milk in the breast, according to Dr Singhal. “We usually advise a woman to breastfeed after delivery and in case the baby is not able to consume the amount of milk produced, we tell the woman to empty her breast with a breast pump after each feed, after which fresh milk comes in about the next two hours,” she said.
Along with this, a woman diagnosed with mastitis is prescribed antibiotics to deal with fever and redness of the breast. In extreme cases, the abscess can be removed through surgery.
Should a woman with mastitis breastfeed?
Despite the doctors urging Pointer to stop breastfeeding, she continued to do so. She couldn’t stop breastfeeding, fearing it would make her infection worse. Pointer finally had her abscess removed through surgery.
Lactating mothers with mastitis can breastfeed but only after the first 24-48 hours, according to Dr Singhal. “In situations of acute inflammatory conditions of 24 to 48 hours, we usually don’t allow women to breastfeed. That’s because the baby, who is being breastfed, will be exposed to bacteria and also be infected. Instead, the baby is given formula milk. After 48 hours, the mother can start breastfeeding once the fever settles,” she added.
Fortunately, most women nowadays are usually well-informed and they know how to take care of their breasts. So, it is not more than one in every 100 woman who are diagnosed with mastitis, stated Dr Singhal.