Written by Sarah Mansell Published on 3rd November 2021 Updated on 23rd May 2022

No one has ever asked for sore, cracked nipples in their stocking, but unfortunately, that’s what lots of mamas get on Christmas morning. OK, maybe not actually in their stockings, but they do get mastitis around the holidays. Which is why we’re calling it ‘Christmastitis’. Mastitis is an infection that occurs in breast tissue most often whilst breastfeeding and it’s estimated to affect 1 in 10 breastfeeding women.

What are the symptoms to look out for?

Throughout your breastfeeding journey, be sure to monitor your nipples carefully. Anything that seems unusual should be checked by a professional and dealt with as quickly as possible before you get any painful side effects. These are the main signs you’re suffering from mastitis. 

  • A swollen area on your breast that’s hot and painful to touch.

  • Breasts taking on a reddish hue. 

  • A wedge-shaped, hard breast lump.

  • A burning sensation when you’re breastfeeding.

  • Nipple discharge which may be white in color and can even contain blood.

  • Developing flu-like symptoms like fever and chills. 

What causes mastitis?

  • The main cause is milk being trapped in the breast and not being expressed or fed. 

  • A blocked milk duct, which can be caused by incomplete feedings.

  • Bacteria can enter your breast from your skin’s surface or from your baby’s mouth.

Ho-Ho-Ho-ly **** that hurts!

Lots of different research studies suggest that cases of mastitis spike around the holidays. Happy Christmas mom! This is simply because the holidays are hectic. Between keeping the in-laws happy, catching up with your friends from high school, and perfecting that turkey recipe, breastfeeding can slip down your list of priorities. Some mastitis-enhancing holiday behaviors include:

  • Going too long between feeding that causes over-engorged breasts. 

  • Using a dummy or pacifier to stretch out feeds so that you can get sh** done. 

  • Using bottles because you don’t want to get your nipples out in front of a load of people you’ve not seen since last Christmas. 

  • Not pumping when you need to because you’re busy with, let’s be honest, more exciting things like socializing and drinking. 

Happy nipples, Happy Christmas

There are lots of things you can do to try and avoid mastitis. And when you’re lying in bed on New Year’s Eve with cabbage leaves on your breasts in screaming pain, you’ll realize that they’re definitely worth it. 

  • Make feeding your number one priority. We want breastfeeding to fit around the festivities, but mastitis will stop you from enjoying the holidays anyway.

  • Wear loose bras and tops (sequined versions encouraged). 

  • Get your friends and family to help out, so you can focus on feeding. Delegation is the keyword here. So what if your partner has never done the potatoes before? They can learn.

  • Make the point that feeding is more important than finishing that round of Monopoly. 

Easing the symptoms

It’s important to seek medical attention if you think you’ve developed mastitis but there are a few things you can do at home to try and ease the symptoms. 

  • Before feeds, apply a wet, warm compress to the area to help encourage milk flow.

  • After feeds, apply a wet, cold compress to the area to help reduce swelling.

  • Gently massage your breasts to clear the blockage. 

  • Try a different breastfeeding position to ensure the most effective feed. 

  • Feed as often as you can. 

  • Take Ibuprofen which has anti-inflammatory properties as well as pain relief.

  • Rest and take it easy

Happy holidays 

If you follow these steps, you might be able to avoid a dreaded case of Christmastitis. Remember to put the needs of your little one first, let your family know how they can help, and put your feet up when you can. Even if that means falling behind on your Christmas to-do list.