The breastfeeding mother in hospital
Mastitis & Breast Abscess
For general information about making a diagnosis of mastitis, see the GP Infant Feeding Network page. The NICE Clinical Knowledge Summary makes it clear that both mother and infant should be admitted together if admission is indicated for mastitis or breast abscess, to allow continuation of breastfeeding as part of the treatment process. The mother should be advised to continue breastfeeding if possible (including from the affected breast). A breastfeeding specialist should be involved to assist the woman in improving the infant's attachment to the breast, improving milk removal and preventing further nipple damage. If breastfeeding is too painful, or the infant refuses to breastfeed from the affected breast, the mother should be advised to express the milk (by hand or with a breast pump) until she is able to resume breastfeeding from that breast.
Many NHS settings admit mothers needing admission for mastitis-related sepsis, or breast abscess, to postnatal wards rather than general surgery wards, which will improve their lactation-specific care and facilities.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has a protocol for breast masses, breast complaints and diagnostic breast imaging in the lactating woman
Other breastfeeding problems presenting to the emergency department
Mothers may occasionally come to the Emergency Department with other breastfeeding related problems such as pain. See the NICE Clinical Knowledge Summary for more information.
When the mothers is admitted for other reasons
When a breastfeeding mother is admitted to hospital for any reason, health professionals need to be aware of their specific needs. If breastfeeding ceases suddenly the mother will be at risk of pain and mastitis, particularly when the infant is exclusively breastfed. Where at all possible breastfeeding should be supported to continue with the help of an additional carer to take responsibility for the infant while the mother is unwell. Some NHS settings have policies that all breastfeeding mothers should be supported to be admitted with their babies (join our facebook group to discuss this further). If this is not possible then expressing milk will reduce discomfort and risk of mastitis, as well as providing milk for the infant or child.
Mothers may hand express if a pump is unavailable or that is their preference. See a video on hand expressing technique here. Electric pumps are often available from maternity settings, children's wards or the emergency department. Mothers who aren't used to expressing may find it difficult to get 'let-down' (milk ejection) for a pump or via hand expressing. Warming the breast may help, for example hand expressing in a shower, or looking at photos and videos of the baby and smelling objects belonging to the baby. Maternity infant feeding teams may be able to offer support to mothers admitted on general wards.
It should also be noted that it may be very difficult for an exclusively breastfed baby to suddenly feed by another route. When milk is expressed to provide milk for the infant or child, it should be stored correctly (see advice here), and transported efficiently.
We have a downloadable poster that may be helpful to educate staff on these issues.
Medication and lactation
See separate page on medication and breastfeeding while a mother is admitted, including contrast agents and anaesthetics