As defined by the Mayo Clinic, mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that causes pain, swelling and redness of the breast. Most times, this condition affects only breast-feeding women. It occurs between the first six weeks after delivery. That is not to say that mastitis cannot affect women who are not lactating, but that would be rare indeed.
Symptoms and Causes
This infection can leave you feeling low in energy, almost making it impossible to care for your baby. Interestingly enough, mastitis tends to only affect one breast at a time. The breast becomes tender and warm to the touch with some swelling. There may be pain or a burning feeling in general or only when breast-feeding. You also may notice redness of the skin, often in a wedge-shaped pattern. Check to see if you are running a fever as well (101۫۫ F or above).
It is believed that the cause of this infection is due to a break or crack in the skin of the nipple or skin near the milk ducts in the nipple. Basically, the bacteria from the mother’s own skin and/or the baby’s mouth enter this small opening and multiply. This leads to an infection.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The Mayo Clinic advises when one notices flu-like symptoms in addition to the redness of one of the breasts, contact medical help as soon as possible. Your doctor will do a thorough physical examination. Sometimes, when mothers don’t seek medical attention in a timely manner, complications can develop, such as a breast abscess.
Antibiotics (10-14 day course) work very well when treating mastitis. Make sure you take all of the prescribed medication, even if you feel better much sooner. Remember to rest, continue breast-feeding and drink lots of fluids.
To decrease the chances of infection, try to fully drain one breast before starting on another one. Change positions while breast-feeding. Maintain your breast-feeding routine. Drink plenty of fluids. Wear a supportive bra. If you do have trouble emptying your breast completely, the Mayo Clinic recommends applying a warm compress to the breast or even taking a warm shower before breast-feeding or pumping milk.