In an ideal world, your doctor also will try to root out the cause of the infection. “If you’ve got a latch problem or you’re not draining the breast well, we need to fix it,” Berens says. (A lactation consultant can be a huge help here.) “Antibiotics may cure the infection but may not resolve the reason you got it in the first place.”
Beyond antibiotics, Richardson recommends “local measures” when treating mastitis. These include nursing on the infected breast first, feeding often, massaging the breast while nursing, taking hot showers or using warm compresses on the breast, and pumping after nursing, if necessary. “All these things help keep the breast empty, which in turn helps the infection clear faster,” she says.
Whatever you do, don’t stop breastfeeding. The baby won’t “catch” the infection, and the remedies used are safe for both of you. Plus, continuing to nurse will help clear the infection more quickly.
Can You Prevent Mastitis?
Absolutely, says M. Jane Heinig, Ph.D., a certified lactation consultant and executive director of the Human Lactation Center at the University of California, Davis. “Anything that compromises your immune system—long-term exhaustion, extreme stress—can contribute to your ability to fight off infection,” she says. So rest as much as possible, eat healthfully and drink lots of fluids. Here are some other prevention tips:
Skip the soap. Most soaps are drying, which can be traumatic to breast tissue, says Houston OB-GYN Pamela Berens, M.D. Instead, simply rinse your breasts with lukewarm water (don’t use a washcloth) and pat dry. If the skin is dry, follow with an over-the-counter breast cream, such as Earth Mama Angel Baby’s Natural Nipple Butter.
Be a quick change artist. Change your breast pads and nursing bras whenever they get wet, and wash them often. Avoid pads with plastic backing—they can keep your nipples damp, which can lead to a yeast infection.
Don't overdo the pumping. Whenever you pump (or breastfeed), your body responds by producing more milk. If you make so much milk that your baby can’t drain the breasts completely, you set the stage for infection.
Treat clogged ducts quickly. If you suspect that you have a clogged duct, apply hot compresses to the area several times a day, be sure the breast is drained completely and massage the affected area as your baby nurses.
Make sure your bra fits properly. “Extra-tight bras can occlude milk flow,” Heinig says. Berens adds that exercise bras can be particularly problematic because they’re so close-fitting, which can impinge the ducts. “Wear it for exactly the time you’re exercising, then take it off,” she says. Also avoid the urge to lift your bra over your breasts to nurse; doing so can pinch the ducts and set the stage for problems.