A breast infection involves an infection of the breast tissue and/or the milk ducts of the breast.
Breast infections are most common in women who are breast-feeding. Bacteria can get into the milk ducts through a crack in the nipple and cause an infection. Incomplete emptying of breast milk during feedings can contribute to the problem. Milk ducts can become blocked. A breast infection can also occur when bacteria enter the tissue through an opening on the skin.
Symptoms of a breast infection include the following: discharge from the nipplefeeling of warmth in the breastfeverflu-like symptomspain and/or discomfort in the breasta red and swollen area of the breast
Breast infections are caused when bacteria enter the milk-producing ducts or an open area on the breast. They are more likely when the flow of milk is blocked or restricted. Factors that increase a woman's risk for breast infection include the following: blocked milk ductbreast abnormalities, such as those following breast surgerycigarette smokingconditions that lower resistance to infection, including anemia, stress, and diabetesexercising the upper arm too much, such as shoveling snowfibrocystic changes in the breastgoing too long between breast-feeding sessionsincorrect positioning of the baby during breast-feedingirregular breast-feedingnipple shieldsobjects that press on the breast, such as heavy shoulder bagspast injuries to the breastskipping feedingsstopping breast-feeding suddenlyteething pain in the infanttight clothing, such as underwire bras
A woman can lower her risk for a breast infection by: avoiding excessive exercise of the upper armsavoiding restrictive clothing or objects over the breastbreast-feeding equally from both breastsdrinking adequate fluidsensuring that the baby is suckling properlyexpressing breast milk when she is away from the baby during regular feeding timesfollowing a regular schedule for breast-feedingpositioning the baby correctlyseeking effective treatment for conditions such as anemiawashing hands prior to breast-feeding
Diagnosis of a breast infection begins with a medical history and physical exam. A culture may be done of the breast milk or the skin surface to check for bacteria. The healthcare provider may order a mammogram or breast biopsy if the cause is not evident.
Long-term effects depend upon the underlying cause. For breast-feeding women with mastitis, the condition usually clears quickly with antibiotic medicine. All of the prescribed antibiotic should be taken as directed to keep the infection from returning later.
A severe breast infection can lead to the development of a breast abscess, or collection of pus. A breast abscess might need to be drained surgically. In this instance, the woman might be advised to discontinue breast-feeding.
If possible, breast-feeding or using a breast pump to express milk should be continued. It may also help to gently massage the breast. This keeps the milk ducts of the breast open. Wearing a well-fitted nursing bra will help reduce excessive swelling. A healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic until the infection is under control. Application of warm compresses may also help. Symptoms usually subside in 2 to 3 days after treatment.
If breast-feeding is continued, the healthcare provider should make sure that any medicines used are safe for the baby. Antibiotics can cause allergic reactions and stomach upset.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.
A follow-up appointment with a healthcare provider is important to make sure the condition is improving.