Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness of the breast. If you have mastitis, you might also experience fever and chills. Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breast-feeding (lactation mastitis), although in rare circumstances this condition can occur outside of lactation.
In most cases, lactation mastitis occurs within the first three months after giving birth (postpartum), but it can happen later during breast-feeding. The condition can leave you feeling exhausted and rundown, making it difficult to care for your baby.
Sometimes mastitis leads a mother mistakenly to wean her baby before she intends to. But you can continue breast-feeding while you have mastitis.
Mastitis, which mainly affects breast-feeding women, causes redness, swelling and pain in one breast....
With mastitis, signs and symptoms can appear suddenly and may include:
Although mastitis usually occurs in the first several weeks of breast-feeding, it can happen anytime during breast-feeding. Lactation mastitis tends to affect only one breast — not both breasts.
When to see a doctor
Your doctor will probably want to see you to confirm the diagnosis. Oral antibiotics are usually very effective in treating this condition. If you've had mastitis before, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics over the phone. If your signs and symptoms don't improve after the first two days of taking antibiotics, see your doctor right away to make sure your condition isn't the result of a more serious problem.
Mastitis occurs when bacteria enter your breast through a break or crack in the skin of your nipple or through the opening to the milk ducts in your nipple. Bacteria from your skin's surface and baby's mouth enter the milk duct and can multiply — leading to pain, redness and swelling of the breast as infection progresses.
Things that put you at increased risk of mastitis include:
Complications that may arise from mastitis include:
Preparing for your appointment
For mastitis, your first appointment will likely be with your regular health care provider, such as an obstetrician-gynecologist, family doctor or nurse practitioner. For problems related to breast-feeding, you may be referred to a lactation consultant.
What you can do
For mastitis, some basic questions to ask include:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor diagnoses mastitis based on a physical examination, taking into account signs and symptoms of fever, chills and a painful area in the breast. Another clear sign is a wedge-shaped area on the breast that points toward the nipple and is tender to the touch. As part of the examination, your doctor will make sure you don't have a breast abscess — a complication that can occur when mastitis isn't treated promptly.
Treatments and drugs
Mastitis treatment usually involves:
If your mastitis doesn't clear up after taking antibiotics, check back with your doctor. A rare form of breast cancer — inflammatory breast cancer — can also cause redness and swelling that could initially be confused with mastitis. Your doctor may recommend a diagnostic mammogram, and you may need a biopsy to make sure you don't have breast cancer.
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you have mastitis, it's safe to continue breast-feeding. Continuing breast-feeding offers the added benefit of helping clear the infection in your breast.
To relieve your discomfort:
If breast-feeding on the infected breast is too painful or your infant refuses to nurse on that breast, try pumping or hand-expressing milk.
To get your breast-feeding relationship with your infant off to its best possible start — and to avoid complications such as mastitis — consider making an appointment with a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant can give you tips and provide invaluable advice for proper breast-feeding technique.
Minimize your chances of getting mastitis by fully draining the milk from your breasts while breast-feeding. Allow your baby to completely empty one breast before switching to the other breast during feeding. If your baby nurses for only a few minutes on the second breast — or not at all — start breast-feeding on that breast the next time you feed your baby.
Alternate the breast you offer first at each breast-feeding, and change the position you use to breast-feed from one feeding to the next. Make sure your baby latches on properly during feedings. Finally, don't let your baby use your breast as a pacifier. Babies enjoy sucking and often find comfort in suckling at the breast even when they're not hungry.
Last Updated: 2010-03-25
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