Elisabeth Anderson-Sierra has donated 200,000+ ounces of milk to micro preemies, breaking the world record for ounces of breast milk donated - four times. How? This mother of two and founder of One Ounce At A Time, a support group for breastfeeding and pumping moms, has Hyperlaction Syndrome, a condition that causes her to overproduce breast milk.
Like all superpowers, Elizabeth’s comes with its own kryptonite. One of the problems she faces as an overproducer is mastitis. She’s overcome it five times in the past four years.
Elizabeth isn’t the only breastfeeding mom to experience mastitis, and it’s not limited to overproducers either. Mastitis can affect any nursing mother. It can even occasionally affect women who aren’t nursing and men
What is mastitis?Mastitis is an inflammatory condition of the breast, usually associated with lactation. It may or may not be accompanied by an infection, and it can have several causes, including but not limited to:
- Breast engorgement
- A clogged milk duct
- Hormonal changes
- Ill-fitting breast pump flanges
- Infrequent or restricted breastfeedings
- Inadequate emptying of the breast
- Poor attachment at the breast
The World Health Organization identifies the two principles causes of mastitis as milk stasis and infection.
What are the symptoms of mastitis?
Unlike breast and nipple thrush, mastitis typically only impacts one breast. Don’t let that fool you, though. Mastitis is an extremely painful and exhausting condition for mothers who are often already worn down.
In describing her most recent bout with mastitis, Elizabeth said, “I felt out of it. It was touch and go. I was meeting basic needs, but just barely. It felt like a full-body flu. It’s like death. All you can manage is your basic physical care, and if it goes on very long, even that goes.”
The symptoms of mastitis may vary from one woman to another, but they generally include:
- Swollen, engorged, tender breasts
- A breast lump or thickening of breast tissue
- Red skin on the breast
- Piercing or burning pain
- Chills or hot flashes
- Flu-like symptoms
How can I prevent mastitis and unclog milk ducts?
Elizabeth had several tips for preventing and relieving mastitis and for keeping milk ducts unclogged.
1. Gently massage breasts.
“Breasts don’t just swell with milk,” Elizabeth explained. “During the early days of breastfeeding, they can become inflamed and aggravated just like when you start working out as your body adapts to making milk. Gently massage tender, engorged breast tissue to decrease the swelling. You can even use massage tools to help.”
2. Breastfeed and/or pump frequently.
Emptying your breasts frequently prevents engorgement and clogged ducts that exacerbate mastitis.
3. Hand express after nursing and pumping sessions.
Like massage, hand expression is soothing to breast tissue, and it also ensures breasts are completely empty, eliminating another contributing factor. When you hand express, you’re also stimulating milk production for your next session.
4. Relax in a warm shower.
Stress can be a factor in mastitis, and warm, moist heat helps milk ducts release. That makes shower time a multi-tasking medicine for breastfeeding moms.
5. Take a lecithin supplement.
Lecithin has been shown to relieve recurrent plugged milk ducts at a recommended dosage of 3600-4800 mg per day.2
6. Don’t wait to speak with your doctor.
If mastitis goes untreated, it can lead to permanent, irreversible damage to your milk ducts, which can result in a breast milk supply loss. If your mastitis is caused by an infection, it’s critical to get started on antibiotics right away.
7. Ask for help.
Being a mom is hard enough when you’re in perfect health. When you’re tired and in constant pain, it can be next to impossible. If you’re struggling with mastitis - or just with the newness of motherhood in general, ask friends and family for help. Reducing your own stress levels is a good way to improve your well-being.
8. Find your perfect flange fit.
Breast pump flanges that don’t fit your breast properly can result in an insufficient seal, which in turn, can lead to clogged ducts. Elizabeth, a flange consultant, encourages women to make the extra effort to find a flange with a perfect fit to decrease the risk of mastitis.
The BabyBuddha® Breast Pump was engineered with universal tubing to empower moms to find their perfect flange fit. Our breast pump can be connected with whatever flange you prefer so you can pump comfortably.
1 World Health Organization. (2000). Mastitis: Causes and Management. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2oWONXv
2 Lecithin. (2019, October 23). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501772/.