Mastitis and Antibiotics

by Sharon Hopkins

Mastitis is a painful condition that occurs when a milk duct in the breast gets blocked or clogged with milk. As a result, the surrounding tissues get irritated and inflamed and create soreness and pain. Women who are breastfeeding or weaning their babies off breast milk are prone to mastitis.

Symptoms of mastitis can occur gradually or develop suddenly. Many women complain of symptoms similar to that of a flu bug at the onset of mastitis. For example, general feeling of being run down or unwell, body aches, shivers and a fever are all common symptoms of mastitis especially when accompanied by an infection. Other symptoms include a sore or red breast that is painful and tender to the touch, red streaks on the breast and shiny skin, and skin that is hot to touch.

One of the main causes of mastitis is a blocked milk duct. Why this happens can be due to several reasons. If you are breastfeeding but keeping large gaps between feeding your baby or if you are not feeding your baby enough, the milk may collect in the breast and thicken. When this happens it is more likely that a duct or ducts get blocked. An infection of the milk ducts may also induce mastitis in the breast. Finally, lowered immunity due to lack of rest and constant exhaustion (common among mothers) is another reason why mastitis may develop.

Treatment for Mastitis without an Infection

For cases of mastitis without an infection, there are many ways of treating the condition such as:

  • Adequate rest and time off your feet
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Take painkillers to reduce pain and soreness (this will not harm the baby if breastfeeding)
  • Use a warm compress to reduce swelling and pain
  • Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the breast after feeding to reduce irritation
  • Wear a loose fitting bra and sleep without a bra as far as possible
  • Feed your baby at regular intervals to prevent breast engorgement
  • If you are weaning your baby off breast milk, express the milk from the breasts either with a pump or by hand. You can do this while having a warm shower to make the process easier and less painful.
  • While feeding, gently massage the breasts towards the nipple to encourage the milk flow
  • Switch between both breasts when feeding
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach to prevent the breasts from being compressed

Treatment for Mastitis with an Infection

In cases of an infection, the best treatment for mastitis is a course of antibiotics. If your symptoms do not disappear in a day or two or do not reduce with the normal home remedies, contact your doctor for medical treatment. For women who have stopped breastfeeding especially, prompt treatment is essential to prevent mastitis turning into a breast abscess. For cases where a sore breast is accompanied by high fever, dizziness or nausea, immediate medical treatment is required as well.

Antibiotics are used for mastitis treatment to get rid of any bacterial infection that has developed in the milk ducts and breast tissue. In case a breast abscess has already developed, mastitis antibiotic treatment is usually prescribed only after the abscess is drained. Most doctors believe that mastitis antibiotics are considered safe even while breastfeeding your baby and there are no known side effects as long as the course is completed successfully. Penicillin-based antibiotics for mastitis in breastfeeding women can cause the following side effects, but this is rare as well:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Gas and bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rashes, itchy skin and other allergic reactions
  • Fussiness or irritation in breastfed babies
However many mothers (and specialists) believe that medications such as antibiotics have an adverse effect on babies and should be avoided as far as possible. If this is the case, speak to your doctor about alternative treatments and natural methods of treating the infection if possible. 
Warning: The reader of this article should exercise all precautionary measures while following instructions on the home remedies from this article. Avoid using any of these products if you are allergic to it. The responsibility lies with the reader and not with the site or the writer.
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