About a year ago, Salty wrote a information-laden post about breastfeeding and training: Got Milk? Running and Breastfeeding . Since that post appeared, I’ve had my own baby and have been exclusively breastfeeding for the past three months, which has brought me back to reading this post several times. I want to ensure that my milk supply and quality are not being affected by my desire to train for a half marathon. Being a first time mom, and grasping for any and all advice that’s out there, Salty’s post gave me the confidence that I could continue to train at a moderate level without affecting my milk supply or milk quality.
Recently, I experienced something related to running and breastfeeding that Salty didn’t cover: mastitis. Mastitis is an infection in a milk duct and it is one giant literal pain in the boob! I know I’m not the only nursing running mom to experience this so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about running and mastitis.
Most weekdays, I’m able to run between 2 and 5 miles in the wee hours of the morning, right after nursing my 3 month-old Connor and making sure my breasts are as empty as they can be for comfort. On weekends, when my husband can help with baby duty, I’ve been able to get in my longer training runs for the half marathon. So far, so good, but there have certainly been bumps in the road along the way, which brings me to the reason for this post: MASTITIS. About 20 percent of breastfeeding women experience it, and I’ve been unlucky enough to experience it twice in the past three months. And I’ve come to wonder, what’s the connection between running and mastitis?
What is Mastitis?
According to Mayo Clinic, mastitis is “an infection of the breast tissue that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth, and redness of the breast.” Fever, chills and flu-like symptoms tend to come along with it as well as fatigue. Mastitis is most common in breastfeeding moms in the first 3 months postpartum, and it tends to only affect one breast at a time. Both times I’ve been afflicted, it has come on pretty fast and I’ve had a fever of 102 degrees. It’s tough to continue nursing as the pain is somewhat horrific, but continuing to nurse is usually what relieves the infection as the baby drains the milk from the breast. It’s perfectly okay to continue nursing with mastitis because it cannot be passed along to the baby.
Causes of Mastitis
Looking at the causes of mastitis is where we find the connection to running.
Blocked milk ducts. If you are not emptying your breasts at each feeding, one of your milk ducts could become clogged and cause milk to get backed up, leading to infection. If you are rushing to get your run in before your husband leaves for work and don’t let baby feed for a full 20-30 minutes (guilty!), this could lead to the beginning stages of a clogged duct. If you are re-entering the workforce after maternity leave and squeezing in pump sessions between meetings and phone calls (guilty!), this could also lead to infection. My sister, who is a pediatrician, explained it as milk becoming clogged and actually turning to a cottage cheesy ( I know, gross!) consistency. Immediate heat compression can melt this blockage and stop it from turning into a nasty infection.
Bacteria entering the breast.
According to Mayo Clinic, bacteria from your skin (perhaps from sweaty sports bras) and baby’s mouth can enter the milk ducts through a break or crack in the nipple. The bacteria can then multiply and lead to mastitis.
Oversupply of milk.
Another of my mom running friends mentioned that she felt as though her milk supply increased the more that she ran. Simply put, the nipples are somewhat stimulated when breasts bounce when running and this causes a sensation as if the baby is sucking, leading to more milk production. Someone else suggested making sure to breastfeed right before and right after my runs to help with this problem.
My husband got me thinking the other day when he asked if I thought that wearing tight sports bras might be causing the clogs. When I’m getting my longer training runs in, I can have these on for upwards of 90 minutes. When I asked my OBGYN, she didn’t seem to think the two were related. When I asked fellow running mamas (one of which is a nurse practitioner in the OBYN wing), they seemed to think it might be. A little internet research seems to indicate bras that put a lot of pressure on the boobs and can contribute to mastitis. To be on the safe side, be sure to take off your sports bras when you do not need them on. I mean, get home from your long run and whip that sucker off and free the boobs! Salty herself had problems with mastitis until she stopped wearing bras at home. Coincidence? Probably not!
When you get mastitis, it’s like getting hit with a bad flu – there’s no training through this one. You will need to take time off while you nurse your own feverish self. If you suspect you have mastitis (a painful spot or lump in your breast coinciding with a fever), call your doctor immediately so you can get antibiotics. While you wait for those antibiotics to kick in hang out in bed with baby and let her nurse anytime she wants, because the nursing will actually help you and won’t hurt her. Once your fever is gone and you feel better you can cautiously resume running, but if your sore spot does not improve or you start feeling bad again…stop! It’s also important to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. You can also massage the tender area and apply warm compresses until it feels better.
Have you experienced mastitis? How did it impact your training? What seemed to cause it for you?
Remember that I am not a doctor or a health care professional. If you have any questions about your own health or that of your baby’s, contact your doctor or pediatrician!