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Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast. It occurs most often in people who are breastfeeding or pumping breastmilk. The inflammation occurs when the milk sacs in the breast are too full and cause swelling in the breast tissue.
Mastitis can leave you feeling very tired and run-down. If you have mastitis, it is important to keep breastfeeding, as stopping suddenly can make it worse. Treating mastitis right away helps prevent an infection from happening. Depending on your symptoms, your healthcare provider might prescribe antibiotics.
One of the main causes of mastitis is when your breasts become too full and make more milk than your baby needs. If this is happening, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to manage your breastmilk production.
If you have mastitis, you may first notice:
Get help from your doctor or call Health Link at 811 if you have any of these symptoms.
If your symptoms are getting worse, the mastitis could be turning into an infection. This infection could lead to a breast abscess, which feels like a hard, painful lump.
Your doctor can usually diagnose mastitis based on your symptoms and by checking your affected breast. Tests usually aren't needed.
Call your doctor or 811 now, or seek immediate medical care, if:
You can sometimes get mastitis when bacteria enter the breast through a cracked or sore nipple. Taking these steps can help prevent mastitis.
Routine breastfeeding prevents bacteria from building up. If you know you'll go more than 4 hours without feeding your baby, arrange to pump.
If you drink something while you breastfeed, it can help you stay hydrated.
When you and your baby are aligned, the baby can latch on to the areola, not just the nipple, and will be able to empty your breast.
This can help drain all areas of your breast. Try breastfeeding positions such as the Australian hold, the cradle hold, the cross-cradle hold, the football hold, and the side-lying position.
These first symptoms may start after you have reopened a blocked milk duct.
Signs that mastitis is getting worse include swollen and painful lymph nodes in the armpit next to the infected breast, a fast heart rate, and flu-like symptoms that get worse.
The symptoms of mastitis most often appear within 4 to 6 weeks after childbirth.
In some cases, symptoms of mastitis may get worse and the breast forms a pocket of pus (abscess) in the infected area.
Thrush (yeast infection) can occur in your baby's mouth and spread to your nipples and breast ducts. You may have a yeast infection if you have:
If you have yeast infection symptoms, both your nipples and your baby's mouth should be checked for thrush.
Symptoms in infants include:
Thrush can also begin with a sudden start of pain or burning when breastfeeding has been going well without problems.
Symptoms of a breast abscess include a breast lump that is hard and painful and a reddened area on the breast. You may also have flu-like symptoms that are getting worse.
Your doctor can usually diagnose mastitis based on your symptoms and by checking your breasts. Tests usually aren't needed. But tests may be done to confirm a diagnosis. They may also be done to help guide treatment for other problems that can develop.
If you have an infection that isn't improving with treatment, your doctor may do a breast milk culture. To provide a sample for a culture, you will squeeze a small sample of milk from the affected breast onto a sterile swab. The culture results help your doctor confirm a diagnosis and find out the specific bacteria causing the infection.
Culture results may also be used to find out which antibiotic will work best for you.
Your doctor can diagnose a breast abscess by checking your breast. If an abscess is too deep to check by touching it, your doctor may use a breast ultrasound. Ultrasound can also guide a needle to drain the abscess. A culture can then be done to identify the bacteria that are causing the abscess.
Mastitis won't go away without treatment. Treating it right away helps keep the infection from quickly getting worse and usually eases symptoms after about 2 days. Delaying treatment can lead to an abscess, which can be harder to treat.
Treatment usually includes:
It is best to keep breastfeeding your baby or pumping breast milk to feed your baby during illness and treatment. Your breast milk is safe for your baby to drink. Any bacteria in your milk will be destroyed by the baby's digestive juices.
Treatment for a breast abscess includes:
Most people can keep breastfeeding with the affected breast while an abscess heals. With your doctor's approval, you can cover the abscess area with a light gauze dressing while your baby breastfeeds.
If you are told to stop breastfeeding your baby from the affected breast while an abscess heals, you can keep breastfeeding from the healthy breast. Be sure to pump or express milk from the infected breast regularly.
Taking antibiotics and continuing to breastfeed or pump will help clear up mastitis. You can also take these steps to feel better.
Cold and heat can reduce pain in the sore breast.
A breast that isn't quite so full can be easier for your baby to latch on to.
If pus drains from your nipple, gently wash it off. Let your nipple air dry before you put your bra back on. You can also use a disposable breast pad to absorb the pus.
If you have trouble breastfeeding, you can get more help and support from your doctor or a lactation consultant.
Antibiotics are used to treat mastitis. But breastfeeding is also a great way to prevent bacteria from collecting in the breast. It can also shorten the time that the infection lasts.
Your baby is the most efficient way to empty your breasts. And your milk is safe for your baby to drink. Your baby's digestive juices will destroy any bacteria in your milk.
The heat from the face cloth can help increase milk flow.
This can also increase milk flow.
Try a lanolin-based cream, such as Lansinoh.
Dry and clean pads are best.
Adaptation Date: 9/5/2023
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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