As many as 33% of breastfeeding mothers experience lactational mastitis, a painful condition involving inflammation and infection of one or more lobules of the mammary gland. This can make breastfeeding extremely painful and in some cases impossible.
Signs and symptoms of mastitis may include breasts that are sore, hot, swollen, shiny and streaked red, as well as flu-like symptoms such as fever and body aches. The problem can extend to the infant as well, who may refuse their mother’s breast, as mastitis can result in unpleasant, salty-tasting breast milk .
To make matters more difficult, the undesirable bacterial strains that are present with lactational mastitis are resistant to a range of antibiotics. Consequently, mastitis can be a challenge to treat and explains why some breastfeeding women experience reoccurring or chronic mastitis.
This is unfortunate, not only because it is painful and unpleasant, but also because breastfeeding is beneficial for both baby and mother.
The good news is that research has shown that probiotics may aid in the symptomatic relief of medically diagnosed lactational mastitis .
Groundbreaking studies have recently displayed that milk of healthy breastfeeding mothers contains certain probiotic strains (such as Lactobacillus gasseri and L. salivarius) which are absent in the breast milk of mothers with mastitis; suggesting that mastitis may develop due to a bacterial imbalance.[1,3]
Here is a breakdown of some studies that demonstrate the link between probiotics and lactational mastitis:
- In a four-week study of breastfeeding women with mastitis, those given a daily probiotic blend (containing species L. gasseri and L. salivarius) no longer showed signs of mastitis after two weeks. Interestingly, those not administered the probiotic were still experiencing mastitis by the study’s conclusion.
- Another study compared the effect of certain probiotics (either L. salivarius or L. fermentum) versus antibiotics in the treatment of mastitis in breastfeeding women. There was greater improvement and lower recurrence of lactational mastitis in women receiving probiotic treatment than in those on antibiotics.
- A third study displayed two probiotic species (L. lactis and L. rhamnosus) can significantly impair the growth of a bacterial organism common to lactational mastitis.
Commonly experienced by breastfeeding mothers, the physical and emotional health impact of lactational mastitis is significant, affecting both mother and infant. This makes the promising research on probiotics and their potential to improve lactational mastitis something to be excited about.
Speak to your healthcare practitioner for more information about probiotics and pregnancy.
- Jiménez E, Fernández L, Maldonado A, et al. Oral administration of Lactobacillus strains isolated from breast milk as an alternative for the treatment of infectious mastitis during lactation. Appl Environ Microbiol 2008;74(15):4650-5465.
- Arroyo R, Martin V, Maldonado A, et al. Treatment of infectious mastitis during lactation: antibiotics versus oral administration of Lactobacilli isolated from breast milk. Clin Infect Dis. 2010;50(12):1551-8.
- Australian Breastfeeding Association. Mastitis. October 2012. https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/
- Heikkila MP, Sarris PEJ. Inhibition of Staphylococcus aureus by the commensal bacteria for human milk. J App Microbiology 2003;95:471-478.