A breast infection, also known as mastitis, is an infection that occurs within the tissue of the breast. Breast infections are most common among women who are breastfeeding, when bacteria from a baby’s mouth enters and infects the breast. This is also known as lactation mastitis. Mastitis also occurs in women who aren’t breastfeeding, but this is not as common.
Infection typically affects the fatty tissue in the breast, causing swelling, lumps, and pain. Although most infections are due to breastfeeding or blocked milk ducts, a small percentage of breast infections are associated with rare kinds of breast cancer.
What causes breast infection?
The cause of most breast infections is Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which causes what is commonly known as a staph infection.
What are the Symptoms of a Breast Infection?
Symptoms of a breast infection can start suddenly and may include:
- abnormal swelling, leading to one breast becoming larger than the other
- breast tenderness
- pain or burning while breastfeeding
- a painful lump in the breast
- warm breast
- nipple discharge that contains pus
- skin redness
- enlarged lymph nodes in the armpits or neck region
- feeling ill or rundown
You may experience flu-like symptoms prior to noticing any changes in your breasts. Contact your doctor if you have any combination of these symptoms.
How is Breast Infection treated?
A 10- to 14-day course of antibiotics is generally the most effective form of treatment for this type of infection, and most women feel relief within 48 to 72 hours. It’s important to take all medication as prescribed to make sure the infection doesn’t happen again. You can continue to breastfeed while on most antibiotics, but if nursing is uncomfortable, you can use a breast pump to relieve engorgement and prevent a loss of milk supply.
If you have an abscess due to a severe infection of the breast, it may need to be lanced (clinically incised) and drained. This will help the breast heal faster.