Mastitis is a breast inflammation usually caused by infection. It can happen to any woman, although mastitis is most common during the first 6 months of breastfeeding. It can leave a new mother feeling very tired and run-down. Add the illness to the demands of taking care of a newborn, and many women quit breastfeeding altogether. But you can continue to nurse your baby. In fact, breastfeeding usually helps to clear up infection, and nursing will not harm your baby.
Although mastitis can be discouraging and painful, it is usually easily cleared up with medicine.
Mastitis most often happens when bacteria enter the breast through the nipple. This can happen when a nursing mother has a cracked or sore nipple.
Going for long stretches between nursing or failing to empty the breast completely may also contribute to mastitis. Using different breastfeeding techniques and making sure your baby is latched on properly when nursing will help with emptying the breast and avoiding cracked nipples. View a slide show on latching to learn how to get your baby to latch on.
Mastitis usually starts as a painful area in one breast. It may be red or warm to the touch, or both. You may also have fever, chills, and body aches.
Signs that mastitis is getting worse include swollen, painful lymph nodes in the armpit next to the infected breast, a fast heart rate, and flu-like symptoms that get worse. Mastitis can lead to a breast abscess, which feels like a hard, painful lump.
You are more likely to get mastitis while breastfeeding if:
Breastfeeding mothers can get mastitis at any time, but especially during the baby's first 2 months. After 2 months, the baby's feeding patterns become more regular, which helps prevent mastitis.
Your doctor can tell whether you have mastitis by talking with you about your symptoms and examining you. Testing is usually not needed.
can usually cure mastitis. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of pills. The antibiotics will not harm the baby. If treatment doesn't work at first, your doctor may send a sample of your breast milk to a lab to help identify the type of bacteria causing the infection.
You can help yourself feel better by getting more rest, drinking more fluids, and using warm or cold packs on your painful breast.
Before breastfeeding your baby, place a warm, wet face cloth over the affected breast for about 15 minutes. Try this at least 3 times a day. This increases milk flow in the breast. Massaging the affected breast may also increase milk flow.
You can safely take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain or a fever. You can take ibuprofen (such as Advil) along with acetaminophen to reduce inflammation. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
Breastfeeding from your affected breast is safe for your baby. If starting with the affected breast is too painful, try feeding your baby with your healthy breast first. Then, after your milk is flowing, breastfeed from the affected breast. If your nipples are too cracked and painful to breastfeed from that breast, hand express or use a breast pump to empty the breast of milk. Try this each time that you cannot breastfeed.
This is a good time to consider getting help from a lactation consultant. This person-usually a nurse-specializes in helping women with breastfeeding. You can breastfeed more effectively with less pain and help prevent future mastitis if you remember to change positions and make sure that your baby is latching on properly.
Be sure to get treatment for mastitis. Delaying treatment can lead to a breast abscess, which can be harder to treat.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about mastitis:
The symptoms of mastitis most often appear within 4 to 6 weeks after childbirth.
If you have mastitis, you may first notice:
These initial symptoms may start after you have resolved a blocked milk duct.
Call your doctor now if you have:
Call your doctor today if you have:
Call your doctor if you have other breast problems like cracked and bleeding nipples or blisters on your nipples that are not relieved by home treatment.
In some cases, symptoms of mastitis get worse and the breast develops a pocket of pus (abscess) in the infected area. Symptoms of a breast abscess include:
(yeast infection) can occur in your baby's mouth and spread to your nipples and breast ducts. If you have symptoms of mastitis that are not going away in spite of treatment, pain in the nipple area during and after breastfeeding, sharp breast pain in between feedings, or nipples that look very pink, you may have a yeast infection. This condition can also begin with a sudden start of pain or burning when breastfeeding has been going well without problems.
If you have yeast infection symptoms, both your nipples and your baby's mouth should be checked for thrush. Treatment for thrush requires that both you and your baby be treated, even if your baby doesn't have symptoms. For more information, see the topic Thrush.
Your doctor can usually diagnose mastitis based on your symptoms and an examination of the affected breast. Tests are usually not needed. But they may be done to confirm a diagnosis or 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 to find out the specific bacteria that are causing the infection.
In some cases, it takes more than one round of antibiotics to clear a breast infection. If you have not been responding to antibiotic treatment, culture results may be used to find out the most effective antibiotic for you.
Sometimes a pocket of pus (abscess) forms in the reddened area of the breast. If an abscess is too deep to examine by touching it, your doctor may use a breast ultrasound to examine it. Ultrasound can also be used to guide a needle to an abscess that needs to be drained of fluid. A culture of the abscess fluid is usually done to identify the infecting organism.
Mastitis will not go away without treatment. If you have mastitis symptoms, you may need to call your doctor today. Prompt treatment helps keep infection from rapidly getting worse and usually improves symptoms after about 2 days.
Treatment for mastitis usually includes:
You can safely continue breastfeeding your baby or pumping breast milk to feed your baby during illness and treatment. Your baby is the most efficient pump you have for emptying your breasts. Your breast milk is safe for your baby to drink, because any bacteria in your milk will be destroyed by the baby's digestive juices.
If you have mastitis because of a blocked duct and you delay treatment, your breast infection may develop into an abscess. Treatment for an abscess includes:
Most women can continue breastfeeding on the affected breast while an abscess heals. With your doctor's approval, you can cover the abscess area with a light gauze dressing while breastfeeding.
If you are advised to stop breastfeeding from the affected breast while an abscess heals, you can continue breastfeeding from the healthy breast. Be sure to pump or express milk from the infected breast regularly.
For more information on pumping or expressing breast milk, see the topic Breastfeeding.
From the time you begin breastfeeding until your baby is weaned, take measures to prevent mastitis. For example, learn about different breastfeeding techniques so that you will know how to completely empty your breasts. Not emptying your breasts completely when nursing or going too long between feedings may lead to mastitis. View a slide show on latching to learn how to get your baby to latch on.
If you have symptoms of mastitis, you may need to call your doctor right away. Delaying treatment can lead to an abscess forming in the affected breast. Severe infection can require intravenous antibiotics in the hospital.
Along with oral antibiotic treatment, continuing to nurse your baby and being careful to empty your breasts completely will help shorten the duration of the infection.
In addition to taking your prescribed antibiotics and continuing to breastfeed or pump breast milk, there are other steps you can take to make yourself feel better until the mastitis goes away.
Most women can successfully continue breastfeeding during a breast infection. If mastitis makes it difficult for you to continue breastfeeding while the infection is being treated, remember that emptying your breasts regularly is essential. Don't hesitate to talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant for further help and support.
Other Works Consulted
Betzold CM (2007). An update on the recognition and management of lactational breast inflammation. Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health, 52(6): 595-605.
Dixon JM, Bundred NJ (2010). Management of disorders of the ductal system and infections. In JR Harris et al., eds., Diseases of the Breast, 4th ed., pp. 42-51. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Lawrence RM, Lawrence RA (2009). The breast and physiology of lactation. In RK Creasy et al., eds., Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine, 6th ed., pp. 125-142. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
MacDonald NE, et al. (2006, reaffirmed 2012). Maternal infectious diseases, antimicrobial therapy or immunizations: Very few contraindications to breastfeeding. Paediatrics and Child Health, 11(8): 489-491. Also available online: http://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/maternal-infectious-diseases-breastfeeding.
Poggi SBH (2013). Postpartum hemorrhage and the abnormal puerperium. In AH DeCherney et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment Obstetrics and Gynecology, 11th ed., pp. 349-368. New York: McGraw-Hill.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family MedicineThomas M. Bailey, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerKirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as ofMarch 16, 2017
Current as of: March 16, 2017
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
& Thomas M. Bailey, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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