Mastitis: Treatment, causes, and symptoms

Mastitis is an infection in the tissue of one or both of the mammary glands inside the breasts. It usually affects women who are producing milk and breast-feeding.

There is often a hard, sore spot inside the breast. This can result from a blocked milk duct or because bacteria enter the breast through a break in the skin.

Mastitis that occurs during breast-feeding is also known as lactation mastitis. It is thought to affect around 10 percent of all breast-feeding mothers. However, study results vary significantly, from a very small percentage of cases up to 33 percent.

It often develops during the first 3 months after giving birth, but it can occur up to 2 years later.

Some mothers mistakenly wean their infants when they develop mastitis. In most cases, breast-feeding should continue during mastitis. Mastitis usually only affects one breast.

Sometimes, it can affect women who are not lactating, but it is uncommon. In very rare cases, it can affect men.

Fast facts on mastitis

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 starts with a blocked milk duct.

Symptoms can include chills, fatigue, and a swollen breast.

Symptoms

Signs or symptoms may develop rapidly. They 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 may always be there or only when breast-feeding

flu-like symptoms

The following symptoms may be present:

anxiety and feeling stressed

chills and shivering

elevated body temperature

fatigue

general aches and pains

a feeling of malaise

Treatment

[Breast-feeding baby]
Mastitis occurs in around 10 percent of breast-feeding mothers.

The first line of treatment is self-help remedies, such as ensuring that the breast is drained properly during feeds.

A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. They will also recommend techniques to treat the blocked duct, if this is the cause.

Some studies suggest that antibiotics do not help and may not be appropriate during breast-feeding. Non-medicinal remedies should be tried first.

If complications occur, and the condition is progressing quickly and looks likely to become more serious, hospitalization and antibiotic treatment may be recommended.

Ask the doctor about treating symptoms of pain and fever with acetaminophen, or Tylenol.

If the mastitis does not get better, the individual should see a doctor again.

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Causes

Mastitis when breast-feeding usually results from a blocked or plugged duct. The blockage causes milk stasis, when the milk that is produced does not come out during feeding and remains in the breast.

This can happen if the infant:

does not attach to the breast properly

has difficulty sucking the milk out of the breast

breast-feeds infrequently

Milk ducts can also become blocked because of pressure on the breast caused by tight clothing, for example.

Often, mothers will place a finger on the same spot every day to move the breast out of the way of the baby’s nose. This later becomes a plugged duct.

Anything that stops the milk from being properly expressed will usually result in milk stasis, and this often leads to milk duct blockages.

Bacteria do not generally thrive in fresh human milk. However, if the milk ducts are blocked, and the milk stagnates, infection is more likely.

Bacteria on the surface of the skin may enter the breast through small cracks or breaks.

Mastitis when not breast-feeding

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