Title: Lactation Mastitis (Puerperal Mastitis)

Written by: by Jennalee Marie, apprentice 2011/2012

What is it?
In most cases, lactation mastitis occurs within the first three months after giving birth (postpartum), but it can happen in later months during breast-feeding. It usually occurs when a Mother does too much without resting! Commonly mastitis during breast feeding is caused by clogged milk duct as a result of not emptying the breast completely, not feeding enough or feeding with a poor latch, restrictive clothing or bras, and when a Mother feeds less than usual. With these non-bacterial causes experts are still unsure why breast milk can cause the breast tissue to become inflamed. One theory is that it may be due to the presence of Cytokines in breast milk. Cytokines are special proteins that are used by the immune system and are passed on to the baby in order to help them resist infection. It may be the case that the breast feeder's immune system mistakes these Cytokines for a bacterial or viral infection, and responds by inflaming the breast tissue in an attempt to stop the spread of what the body perceives as an infection. Bacterial infection can also be the direct cause of Lactation Mastitis: here, rather than a clogged milk duct, the Mastitis is caused by bacteria from the skin or the baby's mouth that enters the milk ducts through skin lesions of the nipple or through the opening of the nipple. In this later case the infection is usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Often in these cases the nipple will have signs of cracks or soreness, and keeping the breasts and baby's mouth clean are important.

Symptoms: Lactation mastitis usually affects only one breast and the symptoms can develop suddenly. The signs and symptoms may include:

  • Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
  • General malaise or feeling ill
  • Swelling of the breast
  • Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
  • Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
  • Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or greater
  • The affected breast can then start to appear lumpy and red.

Some women may also experience flu-like symptoms such as: aches, shivering and chills, feeling anxious or stressed, and fatigue.

image credit: http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/M/mammary_glands.html