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Mastitis — a nasty, no-good breast infection that many of us know about because people like to share their breastfeeding horror stories with each other.

Here’s the truth about mastitis.

It’s true that mastitis is no fun. Generally, it’s caused by a plugged duct (see the post above) that goes untreated. But a mother’s psychological and emotional stress, especially during early motherhood, can contribute to mastitis as well — the body’s weakened, vulnerable state is the perfect breeding ground for an infection. If there’s a crack in the mother’s nipple because baby has been nursing with a shallow latch, bacteria can sometimes enter the nipple and cause an infection.

Here are some ways to tell that you have mastitis as opposed to a plugged milk duct:

  1. You have a fever above 100 and feel like you’ve been hit by a 18-wheeler.
  2. You’ll feel pain/heat/swelling — either one, some, or a combination of all — that is similar to but more severe that what you might have felt from a plugged duct.
  3. General lethargy and malaise, like getting out of bed is the most difficult task in the world.

If you suspect that you have mastitis, it’s important to treat it quickly so as to avoid prolonging the infection. Here are some effective ways to treat it:

  1. If you have a fever of greater that 100 for more than 24-hours, your doctor will need to prescribe a course of antibiotics that usually lasts from 10-14 days.
  2. Rest, nourish, and rest. Though seemingly impossible with a little one at home, it’s crucial to rest, limit as many life stressors as possible, and eat a nutrient-dense diet. Getting as much help as you can — your mother-in-law, your neighbor, your partner, your nanny — so that your only jobs are to regain your strength and feed your baby.
  3. Continue nursing as often as possible on the affected breast, making sure not to delay or skip feedings as long as symptoms persist. Emptying the breast often is key to recovery. If the breast doesn’t feel empty after a feed, either hand express or pump to empty.
  4. If the infection occurred from a crack in the nipple, soak the breast in a saline solution after each feed. Combine 1 cup of warm water and 1/4 tsp. salt, and let soak for 3-5 minutes. Allow to air dry and repeat for as many feedings as possible in a 24-hour period.
  5. Use an ice pack or other cold compress between feedings to reduce swelling.

When in doubt or if symptoms persist, contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or your physician.

Sarah Siebold is a native Los Angeleno and mom to cuddly and curious Noah. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Barnard College of Columbia University before receiving her M.A. in English and American Literature from NYU. After some time teaching and tutoring, she studied Pastry and Baking Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and dove head first into the fast-paced food world. Most recently, Sarah became a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor (CLEC) in 2017 from UC San Diego and feels like her professional interests and passions for teaching and food have coalesced. She pinches herself silly to get to do the work she loves with moms and their sweet babes. You can find Sarah at IMMA Lactation.