By Neus Ferrando Gilabert BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 07/25/2014

Mastitis is a breast inflammation that can present infection. It is usally associated with lactancy, hence it is also called lactational mastitis. 10% of breastfeeding women have it. The inflammation can produce pus in the mammary gland, originating what is known as breast abscess.

The aforementioned situation may be consequence of an inefficient breastmilk empyting, because of a bad breastfeeding technique. That is something typical of the first 2-3 weeks after giving birth, although it can happen at any point of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding problems

Causes

The primary cause of mastitis is milk stasis or breastmilk obstruction, whether it presents infection or not. The obstruction is caused by an insufficent and inefficient milk extraction, having different causes:

By mammary ingurgitation or mammary congestation: it happens when the breast is full of milk and tissue fluid. Venous and lymphatic drainage it’s obstructed, the flow of milk blocked and the pressure of milk and alveolar ducts increases. Breasts become engorged and edematose. That leads to and excessive accumulation of milk, so it is retained inside the breast and flows with difficulty.

The intake frequency also influences: when a timetable is established, ingurgigatation followed by mastitis is more frequent. Many women present the inflammation if they have missed one session or the in-between intake interval is longer.

Breast grip is also a factor to be wary of, as it the main predisposing factor of mastitis. If the baby does not properly hold the breast, milk cannot be extracted correctly. Bad grip may also provoke the apparition of nipple cracks or fissures. They are so painful that many women tend to withdraw breastfeeding, leading ultimately to mastitis.

Finally, there is another scenario: favoring one breast over another and inefficient breast suction. Sometimes the mother assigns a preferred breast to breastfeed the children, the less used one has more chances to have mastitis. Some research have linked this to the mother’s laterality, that is to say if she’s right or left-handed.

Risk factors and prevention of mastitis

Risk factors and mastitis prevention

There are several risk factors that can induce mastitis. Among them we find the following:

  • Age: some studies point that women aged 21 to 35 have a propensity to develop mastitis, they are more prone than women younger than 21 and older than 35.
  • Previous episodes of mastitis: there is evidence that a previous event predisposes its recurrence.
  • Nutrition: antioxydants like vitamin A and E and selenium may decrease the risk of mammary inflammation.
  • Fatigue and stress, working outside the home and traumas, among others.

Therefore, mastitis and mammary abscess can be prevented if breastfeeding is conveniently guided since its onset. That will prevent situations such as milk statis, and, if early symptoms (ingurgitation, blocked dutcs and nipple cracks) are rapidly treated, to cease breastfeeding is avoidable.

If breastfeeding continues or it is interrumped after an episode of mastitis or mammary abscess, its continuation depends on the the counsel and help the mother receives.
If she has the right orientation and the clinical and emotional support, she will recover completely and will not experience discomforts or problems in the subsequent brestfeeding. On the contrary, if she lacks advise and support, she might never breastfeed again.

Authors and contributors

 Neus Ferrando Gilabert
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (UV). Postgraduate Course in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (UMH). Experience managing Embryology and Andrology Labs at Centro Médico Manzanera (Logroño, Spain). More information