Mastitis is an infection of breast tissue most commonly found in new mothers who are lactating. According to WebMD, approximately 1 in 5 breastfeeding women develop mastitis sometime during their babies’ first 6 months of life. Although it usually occurs within the first six weeks after birth, it can happen at any time – even in women who are not lactating (although this is rare).
Mastitis is characterized by pain, swelling, and redness of the breast. It can occur when bacteria, often from the baby's mouth, enter a milk duct through a crack in the nipple. It usually affects only one breast and may be accompanied by other symptoms, including:
Flu-like symptoms such as chills, fatigue, and general body aches that get progressively worse
Fever of 101 F or higher
Cracked nipples or engorgement
It is possible to develop the swelling and pain of mastitis without an infection; however, it is difficult to determine the difference without a thorough examination by a doctor. So if you suspect you have mastitis, make an appointment with your health care provider. There are no tests to diagnose mastitis, but your doctor will base his or her opinion on your symptoms and a physical examination.
If you have mastitis, your doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics to clear the infection; however, antibiotics are not always necessary. Along with a course of antibiotics, the following can help relieve the engorgement, pain, and speed your recovery:
- Get plenty of rest
Alternate hot and cold compresses on the affected breast
Gently massage the affected breast to increase circulation
Breastfeed or pump on the affected side to reduce engorgement and pressure
Take Ibuprofen (Advil, Aleve) for pain and inflammation, or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain
Drink plenty of fluids
If you are given antibiotics and the symptoms don’t subside, check back with your doctor as a rare form of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer has many of the same symptoms and can easily be misdiagnosed as mastitis.
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