Mastitis Symptoms and Treatment

woman holding breast

Mastitis, or an infection of the breast, occurs most often with lactating mothers within the first six months of breastfeeding. Breast infections can occur in non-lactating women, but is usually a sign of a more serious disease that requires immediate medical attention.

Mastitis can occur at any point while a woman is breastfeeding, but happens more frequently during the early post-partum period. This is when the mother and child are establishing their breastfeeding routine. Mastitis is believed to be caused by germs entering the breast through the nipple.

Mastitis: Signs and Symptoms

Mastitis usually appears suddenly and only affects one breast. It is extremely rare for mastitis to be in both breasts at the same time. The signs and symptoms of mastitis often come on very rapidly. A noticeable hard lump, swelling, tenderness, or an area that is warm to the touch may present. Mastitis may also leave you feeling like you have the flu: body aches, fever, and fatigue.

The belief used to be that breast milk from the infected breast was bad and that the baby would become ill if they drank it. This has been proven untrue. Women are encouraged to nurse from their affected breast.

woman clutching chest in pain

Mastitis: Treatments

There are steps you can take at home to help you treat mastitis before it progresses. You should offer the affected breast first and change positions to ensure the breast is fully emptying. If nursing is too unbearable, pumping breast milk from the affected side should be performed.

Taking good care of yourself is an important step in treating mastitis. Research has indicated that stress and poor self-care contribute to mastitis. This is another reason to sleep when your baby sleeps. You should call your doctor if you notice no improvement from self treatment in 24 hours or if you are starting to become feverish. Your doctor will probably want you to come into the office for an evaluation.

Many times, doctors will prescribe an oral antibiotic series to assist your body in fighting off the infection. If you’re given an antibiotic, it’s important for you to take the medicine as directed for the prescribed amount of time. Even if you start to feel better, it is important for you to continue out the series.

If left untreated, mastitis can lead to a breast abscess. A breast abscess is an accumulation of pus inside the breast. Treatment for a breast abscess may require a doctor to make an incision into the breast to drain the infection.

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Mastitis Prevention:

You may be able to prevent mastitis with the following tips:

  • Do not allow your breasts to engorge. Offer frequent feedings. If unable to feed, pump.

  • Only wear good supporting bras. Under wires should be avoided.

  • Get plenty of rest, but avoid sleeping on your stomach.

  • Wash your hands before and after breastfeeding.

  • Ensure your baby is latching on to the breast properly.

  • Apply lanolin in between feedings to your nipples to help prevent cracks.

  • Know what to look for so that you can treat mastitis early at the first sign of trouble.