Mastitis is an infection of one or more ducts of the breast. It’s usually related to breastfeeding and can cause serious illness if not found and treated aggressively. Some 2% to 3% of nursing women get mastitis.
Mastitis is often caused by common bacteria found in the nose and mouth of the baby. Bacteria enter the breast through a crack in the skin (of the nipple) or through the milk duct openings of the nipple. Diabetes and cracked or bruised nipples can increase chances of getting this infection.
Symptoms include a firm, sore, red, tender breast. The upper outer part of the breast is usually affected. Pain or burning in the breast all the time or only when breastfeeding can occur. The breast may show swelling. Some women may develop a high temperature, chills, headaches, and loss of appetite. Persistent high fever and pain in the breast may indicate that an abscess (collection of pus) has occurred in the breast.
The health care provider makes a diagnosis from symptoms and an examination. Blood tests, breast milk analysis, or cultures of samples taken from the baby’s mouth may also be done but aren’t really needed to make the diagnosis or start treatment.
Treatment involves pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, ice packs, rest, and support (a well-fitting bra). Women with mild mastitis don’t need to stop nursing. The health care provider will prescribe antibiotics for the infection and suggest nursing from the unaffected breast, pumping, or expressing the involved breast. Emptying the breast adequately may stop bacteria from collecting in the breast and may help shorten the infection.
If tenderness and fever don’t get better quickly, an abscess (pocket of pus) may be present. The abscess may need prompt surgical drainage.
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