Mastitis and… Probiotics?

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Breast milk contains good bacteria that help the baby stay healthy by colonizing the baby’s gut thereby building his or her immune system and preventing allergies among other benefits. Research shows that these good bacteria sourced from the mother influence many bodily processes and functions including the mother’s breast health.

Up to one in three lactating women suffer from Mastitis. Women report that Mastitis, especially recurrent Mastitis, is a primary reason they stop breastfeeding. This result is important to consider because, although Mastitis may occur at any point while breastfeeding, the vast majority of cases (75-95%) occur within the first three months, with the highest frequency during the second and third weeks postpartum.

Symptoms vary but typically include pain, redness, heat and swelling in and around the breast tissue, and flu like symptoms including a fever. Mastitis can come on quickly and typically will not resolve itself if untreated. Women may safely breastfeed with Mastitis and doctors encourage it since breastfeeding helps clear the infection.

Research shows that Mastitis results from dysbiosis. In other words, it results from a microbial imbalance or maladaptation inside the body. Pathogenic bacteria, namely Staph Aureus, Staph Epidermidis and Streptococci, infect the breast tissue and cause an inflammatory response from the mother’s body. Traditional medicine typically treats Mastitis with antibiotics with varied results. Some women recover quickly following a course of antibiotics and never get Mastitis again. Other women struggle with recurrent Mastitis despite their best efforts to avoid it.

Though an important part of acute medical treatment, antibiotics don’t discriminate. They kill all bacteria – “good” and pathogenic alike. This result has broader health implications. Additionally, overuse and exposure in our food system and over-prescribing of antibiotics has resulted in antibiotic resistance. Bacteria have developed resistance to more complex and powerful antibiotics reducing treatment efficacy when we really need it.

Research shows women may have another option other than antibiotics to treat Mastitis… oral probiotics. Breast milk from healthy breastfeeding mothers contains two beneficial probiotic strains known as Lactobacillus gasseri and Lactobacillus salivarius while breast milk of those mothers with Mastitis contained none. Alternatively, breast milk from women suffering from acute and chronic episodes of Mastitis contained high levels of pathogenic Staph Aureus and Staph Epidermidis. Both of these pathogenic strains also exhibit multi-drug resistance to antibiotics thereby complicating treatment and resulting in recurrent or chronic manifestation of the infection.

These beneficial bacteria, Lactobacillus gasseri and Lactobacillus salivarius, on the other hand, exhibit antimicrobial and anti-infectious properties and act as immunomodulators. Researchers administered a blend of these protective Lactobacilli strains to women with Mastitis over a period of thirty days. By the fourteenth day, the group that received the probiotic supplement showed no clinical signs of Mastitis. The other group continued to struggle with the condition throughout the study period.

Another larger trial divided women who were suffering from Mastitis into three groups. One received L Lactobacillus salivarius, another received Lactobacillus fermentum, and the third took the antibiotic prescribed by their primary care physician. The women in the two probiotic groups exhibited greater improvement and lower recurrence of Mastitis as compared to the women in the antibiotic group.

This research seems hopeful and encouraging to those women who want to continue breastfeeding despite struggling with Mastitis. Considering probiotic therapy as an effective and more natural alternative treatment makes sense, especially if antibiotics have not proven effective.

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