Probiotics and how they help with mastitis
Probiotics and Mastitis
What’s the connection?
It used to be thought that breast milk was sterile but we now know that this is not the case at all. Human milk contains a host of healthy bacteria which provide all sorts of benefits to a baby, particularly for boosting his immune function and allergy prevention. Babies who are born vaginally also inherit bacteria from their mother’s vaginal tract and this, as well as hours of skin to skin contact, also provides perfect encounters for bacterial transfer.
Importantly, all of these opportunities help to build on an overall ecosystem of good microbes which boost the baby’s immunity and maximise his chances of staying healthy.
It’s not all about the baby you know
Although the benefits for the baby are very clear, there is also another, not so positive side to all of this bacterial load sharing. During lactation, a mother’s breasts are constantly going through complex processes of producing milk and adjusting to the baby’s nutritional and growth needs. Microbial imbalance can easily occur when there is breast engorgement or when a mother is physically run down and her own immunity compromised.
What exactly is mastitis?
Most women have heard of mastitis and many have been unlucky enough to have had it. Put simply, mastitis is inflammation of the breast or mammary tissue. Symptoms vary between individual women but generally there is pain, redness, heat and swelling in and around the breast lobules and tissue.
When women have mastitis they commonly report feeling generally unwell, with influenza type symptoms. Often they have an elevated temperature as well, and feel increasingly worse in a short period of time. The onset of mastitis can be very rapid, quite literally escalating in just a few hours. Left untreated, mastitis is unlikely to resolve on its own and there is a risk of breast abscesses forming.
What causes mastitis?
Mastitis is caused by bacteria, which invade the breast tissue and set up an inflammatory response. The primary culprits can generally be narrowed down to Staph Aureus, Staph Epidermidis and Streptococci. Effectively treating mastitis can be challenging, because of the sheer number of causative microbes and their diversity.
Mastitis affects in around 33 percent of lactating mothers and it is one of the primary reasons why many women report they stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can be hard work and although it’s one of the most natural things we can do for our children, for most of us it requires a set of learned skills and behaviours to become easy.
Part of the overall management of mastitis is to continue breastfeeding and not to stop, certainly within the acute phase. It is important to avoid breast engorgement and to keep the milk flowing in order to support the infection to resolve. One of the best ways to do this is to ensure your baby has free access to breastfeeds and for you to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
The old way is not necessarily the best way
Traditionally mastitis has always been treated with antibiotics, though there is great variation in how responsive individual women are to antibiotic therapy. Some recover very quickly with a course of antibiotics and, after one acute bout of mastitis, never get it again. But others seem to always be either recovering from it or succumbing to it again, despite doing all they can to avoid mastitis.
Many health professionals believe that the shape and structure of the breast can influence the likelihood of mastitis occurring. Women who have had breast surgery such as augmentation or reduction tend to be more prone.
Pre or probiotics
Most of us have heard about pre and probiotics and have some vague understanding of how they work. Health food stores and the dairy isles of supermarkets carry a wide range of supplements and foods with added ‘good’ bacteria, mostly concentrating on the benefits on gut health and general (adult) wellbeing. These bacteria tend to be counted in the millions, with strains and varieties listed in unpronounceable names with labels showing little smiley face icons just to demonstrate how friendly they are.
But paediatric science and research is now proving that the bio active compounds found in breast milk can actually function on the baby’s living tissue and provide a range of health benefits. These are not only specific to the baby, but the mother’s breast health as well.
Building the capabilities of a baby’s body ‘memory’ to respond to illness is one way in which pre and probiotics work. They also help to lower symptoms in allergic children and even reduce the occurrence of new symptoms developing.
Breast milk changes and adapts as the baby matures and the constituents and compounds of breast milk are very different between individual women. Protein and fat quality, carbohydrate and water content vary according to the baby’s age and stage. What’s necessary for a newborn is very different, for example, for for a six month old baby. In this sense, breast milk is dynamic and highly adaptive.
What does she have that I don’t?
Healthy breastfeeding mothers appear to have two specific probiotic strains contained within their breast milk, which mothers who have mastitis do not. These protective probiotics are known as Lactobacillus gasseriand Lactobacillus salivarius. And although they have pretty fancy names, these are actually little powerhouses of antimicrobial and immune strength.
Research is demonstrating that now there is a better way of treating mastitis, with oral probiotics rather than traditional antibiotics. Several strains of what are known as ‘lactobacilli’ when sourced from breast milk and given in a freeze dried probiotic capsule form, have been shown to have positive effects in treating mastitis and reducing breast pain and inflammation.
There are also benefits to considering probiotic therapy over antibiotics in terms of antibiotic resistance. Most of us are aware that many strains of bacteria have developed resistance to ever more complex and powerful antibiotics. Zealous over prescribing and cheaper access to antibiotics has meant that as a society we are at risk of developing multi-resistance. This means that if and when the time comes that we really need antibiotic therapy for an infection, the causative bacteria will not be sensitive and keep on replicating and making us sicker.
Antibiotics, whilst therapeutic, also kill off the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut and intestinal tract. This means that opportunistic infections such as thrush are more common after a course of antibiotics.
All of this means that seeking an effective alternative, which not only treats mastitis more effectively but in a more natural form as well, makes very wise sense.
If you feel you have mastitis it is important to speak with your healthcare professional. Treatment options vary but generally, the earlier mastitis is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome.
Kidspot is dedicated to the promotion of breastfeeding as the best possible start in life for babies as well as being good for the health and wellbeing of mothers.
The World Health Organization recommends that infants start breastfeeding within one hour of life, are exclusively breastfed for six months, with timely introduction of adequate, safe and properly fed complementary foods while continuing breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond. Source: http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/infantfeeding/en/
Breastfeeding provides babies with the best nutrition and is preferred whenever possible. Good maternal nutrition is ideal for breastfeeding. You should be aware that reversing a decision not to breastfeed may prove difficult. Partially introducing formula could negatively affect your milk supply. Social and financial implications should be considered when selecting a method of feeding. Professional advice should be followed before using an infant formula. Proper use of an infant formula is important to the health of the infant and should only be used as directed.
If you’re worried about breastfeeding, your Well Child nurse or PlunketLine can help.
This article was written by Jane Barry, child health nurse, midwife, freelance parenting consultant, copywriter and director of www.mybabybaby.com.au for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz