What is Mastitis?

Author: Erin Wood, PA-C

Question: Erin, what is mastitis?

Answer: Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast tissue that results in extreme pain, swelling, warmth, and redness that sometimes involves an infection. 

Question: Who is more at risk of getting mastitis?  

Answer: Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breastfeeding (lactation mastitis). But mastitis can occur in women who aren’t breastfeeding and can even happen in men. Other risk factors of mastitis are:

  • Smokers and poor nutrition
  • Previous bout of mastitis while breastfeeding
  • Improper nursing technique
  • Wearing a tightfitting bra or putting pressure on your breast when using a seat belt or carrying a heavy bag can restrict milk flow

Question: What causes someone to get mastitis? 

Answer: Typically it involves when breast milk is trapped in the breast. Other causes include:

  • A blocked milk duct: When a breastfeeding woman doesn’t completely empty their breast of milk at feedings, one of the milk ducts can become clogged. This clog or block in the duct causes milk to back up, leading to a breast infection.
  • Bacteria entering the breast: Bacteria from your skin’s surface and baby’s mouth can enter the milk ducts through a crack in the skin of your nipple or through a milk duct opening. Stagnant milk in a breast that isn’t emptied provides a breeding ground for the bacteria. 

Question: What are the signs and symptoms of mastitis? 

Answer: Signs and symptoms can appear quickly. The most common include: 

  • Fever
  • Breast tenderness or pain to the touch
  • Breast is warm to the touch
  • Breast swelling
  • Redding of the breast tissue and/or skin, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
  • Pain or burning sensation while breastfeeding

Question: How do you prevent mastitis?

Answer: You can minimize your risk of getting mastitis by:

  • Allow your baby or pump to full drain and empty one breast before moving into the next one
  • Fully drain the milk from your breast while breastfeeding
  • If you breastfeed instead of pump, make sure the baby is latching properly during feedings
  • If you smoke, speak with a doctor about smoking cessation

Question: What are the possible complications or risks for not treating mastitis?

Answer: Mastitis that’s left untreated can lead to an abscess (a collection of pus) to form, which could result in surgical drainage, not to mention extreme pain. When an infection forms in the breast it could increase your chances of causing permanent damage to the breast itself, leaving it unable to breastfeed in the future. 

Question: How is mastitis treated?

Answer: Mastitis is typically treated with a prescribed antibiotic. Here are some other ways you can help treat mastitis:

  • Apply ice: Use an ice pack to reduce swelling while laying on your back so the swelling drains in your lymph nodes. Do not apply heat to the breast. 
  • Pain relievers: You can take OTC (over-the-counter) medications like ibuprofen or naproxen to help relieve the pain that’s associated with the infection. 
  •  Lymphatic drainage: Lymphatic drainage involves gentle, light “petting of a cat” pressure of your breast toward your lymph nodes above your collar bones and in your armpit. It reduces swelling by moving fluid. This isn’t as strong of pressure as a massage.
  • Reverse pressure softening (RPS): This type of massage reduces swelling in your areola and nipple by moving the fluid away from it. It allows your baby to latch more easily to a full breast. To perform RPS, place two fingertips around the base of your nipple. Apply pressure, then drag your fingers away from your nipple. Do this at several angles around your nipple.

Question: Any last thoughts, Erin on mastitis?

Answer: Mastitis, especially lactation mastitis, can cause you to feel worn down, making it difficult to care for your baby. You can also get mastitis more than once believe it or not. Sometimes breast infections may go away on their own, but it’s best to seek medical advice and help if you have any symptoms of mastitis. Note that you can continue to breastfeed your baby if you have mastitis, though it can be comfortable for the mother. You can’t pass a breast infection to your baby through breast milk. In fact, breast milk has antibacterial properties that help babies fight infections! When mastitis is properly diagnosed and treated in a fairly quick time frame after the first sign and symptom, symptoms should dramatically improve within the first 24 to 72 hours. Recognizing the signs of engorgement and inflammation is key, because then you can start to implement treatment methods like ice and lymphatic drainage.

The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.

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