Mastitis is a condition that results in a woman's breast becoming painful, swollen, and red. It is most common in breastfeeding women, although this condition can also occur in women who aren't breastfeeding.
With mastitis, signs and symptoms can appear suddenly and may include:
- Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
- Generally feeling ill
- Breast swelling
- Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
- Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
- Fever of 101 F or greater
Risk factors for mastitis include:
- Breastfeeding during the first few weeks after childbirth
- Sore or cracked nipples, although mastitis can develop without broken skin
- Using only one position to breastfeed, which may not fully drain your breast
- Wearing a tight-fitting bra or putting pressure on your breast from using a seatbelt or carrying a heavy bag, which may restrict milk flow
- Becoming overly tired or stressed
- Previous bout of mastitis while breastfeeding
- Poor nutrition
If mastitis isn't adequately treated, or it's related to a blocked duct, an abscess can develop in your breast and form a breast mass or area of firmness with thickening. An abscess usually requires surgical drainage. To avoid this complication, talk to your doctor as soon as you develop signs or symptoms of mastitis.
Minimize your chances of getting mastitis by following these tips:
- Fully drain the milk from your breasts while breastfeeding.
- Allow your baby to completely empty one breast before switching to the other breast during feeding.
- Change the position you use to breastfeed from one feeding to the next.
- Make sure your baby latches on properly during feedings.
Often, you'll feel ill with flu-like symptoms for several hours before you recognize that your breast has an area of tenderness and redness. As soon as you recognize this combination of signs and symptoms, it's time to contact your doctor.
Oral antibiotics are usually effective in treating this condition, but your doctor will probably want to see you to confirm the diagnosis. If your signs and symptoms don't improve after the first few days of taking antibiotics, see your doctor right away to make sure your condition isn't the result of a more serious problem.
Sometimes mastitis leads a mother to wean her baby before she intends to. However, continuing to breastfeed, even while taking an antibiotic for the mastitis, is better for you and your baby. Talk to any of our doctors if you have any questions.