Mastitis is inflammation of the tissues of the breast, leading it to become hot, painful, and swollen. It commonly occurs in women who are breastfeeding but non-lactating women and men can also get it.
In breastfeeding women, it can occur when the milk builds up in the breast or from a blockage in the milk ducts. If you have sore or cracked nipples it also makes it easier for bacteria to enter the milk ducts and often sore/cracked nipples can be caused by incorrect feeding technique and latching position or wearing tight-fitting clothing.
Other people at risk of this condition include smokers and those with a weakened immune system. Irritation or damage to the skin around the nipples, through plucking the hairs or nipple piercings as well as certain skin conditions like eczema or having breast implants can increase your risk of having mastitis.
Mastitis causes the breast to become hot, painful, tender to touch, and swollen. There may be an area of the breast that is hardened or thickened and the skin is often very red and the nipple may discharge. People can feel quite unwell with mastitis, with general flu-like illness symptoms as well as fevers (> 38 degrees).
Although it may hurt to breastfeed, it is advised to continue breastfeeding to help unblock the milk ducts and provide nutrition to your baby. You should breastfeed regularly from both breasts to avoid engorgement of your breasts which will make your symptoms feel worse. Ensure baby latches on to the nipple correctly and massage your breasts before feeding to help relieve your symptoms. You may require help from a breast feeding consultant if you find any of this difficult.
Simple things you can do at home include ensuring that you are wearing loose-fitting clothing and bras, and applying cool ice packs or cold cabbage can also help. You should take simple painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol to relieve the pain and inflammation.
It is advised to see your doctor if you have symptoms of mastitis as your doctor will normally need to prescribe you antibiotics in order to improve the infection, usually for 10 days. You should inform your doctor if you are breastfeeding so that they can prescribe one that is safe to take.
It is important that you complete your course of antibiotics, even when you are starting to feel better because there is a risk that this infection can come back. There is then a high risk of an abscess developing (a collection of pus) in your breast and that may require surgical drainage.
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