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Breastfeeding & Mastitis

This week is World Breastfeeding Week, so what better time to think about why breastfeeding is so important?

Breastfeeding is such a great way to improve the health outcomes of both the infant and mother – even many years later. Many new mums would be familiar with the phrase “breast is best”. This is because babies who are breastfed receive a number of important advantages. They are less likely to become sick, as they receive some of the mother’s immunity to illness and disease through the breast milk. Breastfed babies also have improved outcomes later in life, including reduced risk of obesity and a higher IQ, compared with formula fed babies.

What is less well-known is that breastfeeding has many health benefits for the mother too. Breastfeeding mothers have lower risk of persistent pelvic girdle pain, and improved mood, compared with non-breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding also reduces the mother’s risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly, later in life, women who breastfeed also have a lower risk of both ovarian and breast cancer, and a lower risk of macular degeneration in older age.

When you look at these combined benefits for both the mother and baby, breastfeeding gives lots of important health advantages – and these equate to economic benefits too.

These include the immediate benefits of reduced morbidity and mortality for mothers and babies, and also the long-term costs to the community from chronic disease and reduced work productivity that is linked with not breastfeeding.

If you would like to read more on this, has more information and statistics on the economic benefits for entire nations that breastfeeding can bring. However, many of you may be saying – that’s all very well, but this breastfeeding malarkey was a lot more difficult than I imagined!

So many women either do not manage to establish breastfeeding or wean earlier than they intended due to problems including mastitis, pain and a perception of low supply. And that’s really sad, because in so many cases, the correct advice and a bit of help may have made all the difference for these women.

Low supply is actually a lot less common than many women are lead to believe – and the problems may actually lie in things like mastitis, poor attachment, uncomfortable feeding positions and sheer exhaustion for the poor mother.

What is mastitis?

The Australian Breastfeeding Association explains mastitis as:

“Usually the result of a blocked milk duct that hasn’t cleared. Some of the milk banked up behind the blocked duct can be forced into nearby breast tissue, causing the tissue to become inflamed. The inflammation is called mastitis (also sometimes called ‘milk fever’). Infection may or may not be present.”

Watch this video to learn what causes mastitis, what the symptoms are, the various forms of treatment, and alternatives to antibiotics.

So what can we do to help?

One of the most important things for any mother trying to establish breastfeeding or recover from mastitis is REST!

It is important to try to keep baby and mother together as much as possible – but well-meaning family members often try to give the mother rest by taking the baby away. Instead, why not offer some other support?

A few cooked, ready to go meals or putting on a load of washing and doing the dishes are really practical and helpful things to offer. The next thing is for the mother to get some advice and support from a lactation consultant or physiotherapist as soon as possible. This is especially important if mastitis develops, as it can make you feel very sick very quickly.

What treatment can help?

Getting advice on baby’s attachment and trying some different feeding positions to make you and the baby as comfortable as possible can be invaluable.

If there are problems with mastitis or blocked ducts, some other treatment can be really helpful. Warm packs on the breasts before a feed and cold packs afterwards can help.

Ultrasound and massage to the breasts can make an enormous difference to mastitis as well. Many Women’s Health Physiotherapists can provide this treatment and show you how to massage your breasts, as well as offer advice on posture and feeding positions. Although antibiotics are often prescribed for mastitis, they may not always be needed.

While there is a definite inflammatory reaction occurring in the breast tissue with mastitis, this does not mean there is an infection. Some women also find antibiotics can upset their baby’s tummy.

It may be worth while trying some of the other treatment options first, as with or without antibiotics, these will often help things to settle down within a few days.

As always, if you have any queries about breastfeeding or anything else in this blog, please feel come and talk with Jenny at Move. 

Find out more about Jenny Phillips here, or make an appointment to see her by calling 8373 5655 or booking online here.

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