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Mastitis usually happens in nursing mothers when bacteria enter the breast through a cracked or sore nipple. This can cause an infection. Mastitis usually starts as a painful area in one breast. It may be red or warm to the touch, or both. Fever, chills, and body aches usually occur too.
Good breastfeeding techniques can help prevent sore and cracked nipples that may lead to mastitis.
- Breastfeed regularly. Do not delay or skip feedings. Breastfeed whenever your baby is hungry (feeding on demand). This helps keep the milk ducts empty. In the first few days after birth, you may have to wake your baby to breastfeed.
- If you know you have to wait more than 4 hours to breastfeed your baby, arrange a time and place to pump or express your breast milk. See a picture of pumping or expressing breast milk.
- Align your baby straight for breastfeeding. This means putting your baby's chest to your chest. The baby should latch on to the areola, past the nipple. Latching on incorrectly, such as only getting the nipple into the baby's mouth, may cause problems. Your nipples may crack or become sore. Also your baby may not empty the breast well. Massage the areola if your nipples are flat, and gently push the nipple outward with your thumb and forefinger. View a slideshow on latching to learn how to get your baby to latch on.
- Alternate which breast you offer first at each feeding.
- Use different breastfeeding positions to drain all areas of your breast. See pictures of different breastfeeding positions, including the Australian hold, cradle hold, cross-cradle hold, football hold, and side-lying position.
- If you start to have sore or cracked nipples, get help from your doctor or a lactation consultant.
Other tips to help prevent mastitis include the following:
- Air-dry your nipples after each breastfeeding session, to prevent irritation and cracking.
- Consider using a lanolin-based cream, such as Lansinoh, on your nipples. Lansinoh does not require a prescription and may be purchased over-the-counter.
- Eat healthy foods and drink plenty of fluids, whenever you are thirsty. Having something to drink while you are breastfeeding helps you get enough fluids.
- Get plenty of rest. Ask for help with daily tasks from friends and family members whenever possible.
- Make sure that your bra fits well and isn't tight and restrictive. This is especially important if you become engorged.
- When you are ready to wean your baby, stop breastfeeding gradually. Gradual weaning is best for both of you. It helps prevent your breasts from becoming too full of milk and gives your baby time to adjust to new eating patterns. For more information, see the topic Weaning.
Current as of: June 16, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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