The “breast is best” slogan has been around since 1978 when it was the title of a bestseller to promote breastfeeding. Breastfeeding continues to be a hot topic among moms, often leading to heated debates online. Regardless of their decision for baby’s nutrition, most moms agree more support for breastfeeding is needed. One of the more common issues breastfeeding women experience is mastitis.
A simple online search on experiences with mastitis is enough to scare any breastfeeding mom. Some women report that the pain with natural labor is easier to manage than mastitis. This, among other things, can be a deterrent for women when choosing nutritional support for their babies.
Mastitis can be an extremely painful condition which deters many moms from continuing to breastfeed. Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast tissue, caused by a milk duct obstruction, infection or an allergy. While all mastitis is characterized by inflammation, not all inflammation is due to infection.
A blocked duct is an area of the duct system in the mother´s breast that becomes blocked. The area in the breast is tender and the milk no longer flows. If the blockage is not treated, it may become infected causing mastitis.
Conservative self measures to treat blocked ducts are: nursing frequently changing the breast/baby position, applying heat to the tender area, breast massage and resting.
The most common symptoms of mastitis include:
- Tenderness and pain in the area
- Decreased milk supply
- Fever and chills (with infection present)
Physical therapy can be a successful non-invasive treatment for mastitis using therapeutic ultrasound and manual lymphatic drainage massage. It has been shown as an effective non-pharmacological treatment for the inflammatory symptoms of mastitis.
Therapeutic ultrasound works by changing the permeability of the cells. This aids in resolving the current inflammatory state, improving local blood and lymphatic circulation. The mechanical gentle movement of the ultrasound head also stimulates fluid drainage. Other benefits of physical therapy include manual lymphatic drainage massage, which activates the resorption of edema. In cases where no infection is present, women can avoid taking antibiotics which transfer through the mother’s breast milk to the babies, often resulting in the baby experiencing an upset stomach and/or diarrhea. Lastly physical therapy can help to reduce pain and swelling and recurrent mastitis cycles.
Women who choose breastfeeding need support by their community and health care providers to reach their breastfeeding goals.
There is evidence that women who have successfully lactated are significantly less likely to have osteoporosis, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes and obesity problems. This means that women with a history of lactation will be healthier in their menopausal years.
We believe it would be very beneficial for breastfeeding women to see a physical therapist, trained in the use of therapeutic ultrasound, as soon as they experience any of the main symptoms of mastitis. Treatment for mastitis is mainly short term (within one week) and resolved within a few treatment sessions.
Written by: Irene Hernandez
Editing: Keely Faridi