With mastitis, a woman often feels a hard, sore spot inside the breast; it can occur as a result of a blocked milk duct or bacteria entering the breast through a break in the skin.
Mastitis, also known as lactation mastitis, is thought to affect approximately 10 percent of all breast-feeding mothers. However, study results vary significantly, from a very small percentage of cases up to 33 percent.
The condition tends to emerge during the first 3 months after giving birth, but it can occur up to 2 years later.
Some mothers mistakenly wean their babies when they develop mastitis. In most cases, breast-feeding can continue during mastitis. In the vast majority of cases, only one breast is affected.
Sometimes, mastitis can affect women who are not lactating, but it is uncommon. In very rare cases, it can affect men.Contents of this article:
Here are some key points about mastitis. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Mastitis rarely affects more than one breast at a time.
- In very rare cases, mastitis can affect males.
- Mastitis often occurs because of a blocked milk duct.
- Symptoms can include chills, fatigue, and a swollen breast.
Causes of mastitis
Mastitis occurs in around 10 percent of breast-feeding mothers.
Bacteria do not generally thrive in fresh human milk. However, if the milk ducts are blocked, and the milk stagnates, infection is more likely.
Experts believe that bacteria on the surface of the skin enter the breast through small cracks or breaks.
Mastitis in women who are not breastfeeding
Women who are not lactating, in other words, not producing milk and not breast-feeding, may develop mastitis. This is not common and is referred to as periductal mastitis. Those who do develop non-lactating infectious mastitis tend to be regular smokers and in their late 20s to early 30s.
Experts believe that smoking may damage the milk ducts, making these more susceptible to infection.
Mastitis after nipple piercing
Nipple piercing done at non-professional, unregistered piercing studios may raise the risk of mastitis occurring.
Causes of a blocked duct
Mastitis is usually because of a blocked, or plugged, duct, which causes milk stasis. This means the the milk that is produced does not come out during feeding and remaining in the breast This may be caused by:
- The baby not attaching to the breast properly.
- The baby having difficulty sucking the milk out of the breast.
- The baby being breast-fed infrequently.
- Milk ducts being blocked because of pressure on the breast caused by tight clothing, for example.
Anything that stops the milk from being properly expressed will usually result in milk stasis, which often leads to milk duct blockages.
Symptoms of mastitis
Signs or symptoms may develop rapidly, and can include:
- an area of the breast becoming red and swollen
- the affected area of the breast hurting when touched
- the affected area feeling hot when touched
- a burning sensation in the breast that is there continually, or only when breast-feeding
The following symptoms are occasionally present:
- anxiety and feeling stressed
- chills and shivering
- elevated body temperature
- general aches and pains
- a feeling of malaise
Treatments for mastitis
Treatments for mastitis usually include a person taking an antibiotic to tackle the infection, and techniques to treat the blocked duct, if this is the cause.
The antibiotic may pass to the baby in the breast milk. The baby might pass runny stools and become restless. However, doctors say this does not affect the baby, and the effects will disappear as soon as treatment is over.
If the mastitis does not get better the individual should see a doctor again.
Treatments for a blocked duct
The following self-care techniques can often resolve a blocked duct:
- Ensure you are drinking plenty of liquids and resting.
- Symptoms of pain and fever can be alleviated with acetaminophen (Tylenol). Some of this will pass through the breast milk, but not enough to harm the baby. Do not take aspirin while breast-feeding.
- Feed the baby more frequently. If you cannot feed your baby more often then expressing your milk can be helpful.
- During a feed, start with the affected breast to ensures it is drained more regularly.
- After a feed, gently express any leftover milk.
- Ask a doctor or nurse if the baby is attaching to the breast properly.
- Try different feeding positions until one is found that is more effective at draining the breast.
- Warming the breast with a heated compress before a feed can sometimes make it easier for the baby to get the milk out.
- Some stroking techniques can help with milk flow.
- Wear very loose-fitting clothes until the mastitis has gone and avoid tight-fitting clothes thereafter.
If the problems persist, there are a range of support groups, which include certified lactation consultants and La Leche League meetings.
Diagnosis of mastitis
A doctor will diagnose mastitis upon physical examination.
Mastitis is fairly easy to diagnose. A doctor will perform a physical examination and ask about symptoms.
When symptoms are severe, or if the woman does not respond to treatment, the doctor may take a small sample of breast milk for testing. These will:
- Determine whether there is a bacterial infection.
- Identify the type of bacteria to help the doctor select the best treatment.
If a breast-feeding problem is suspected as the cause, the woman may be asked to demonstrate how she breast-feeds.
It is important that the mother does not feel she is being blamed or judged. Breast-feeding often requires practice to perfect.
Inflammatory breast cancer, a rare form of breast cancer, can also have similar symptoms of redness and swelling. In some rare cases, a biopsy may be taken to rule out breast cancer.
Complications of mastitis
- Recurrence: Women that have had mastitis are more likely to get it again, than those who haven't. In most cases recurrence is due to late or inadequate treatment.
- Abscess: If the mastitis is not treated properly, there is a risk that a collection of pus, or abscess, can develop in the breast. An abscess usually require surgical draining.