What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is the inflammation of the breast which causes dreadful pain. It mostly affects breastfeeding women, but in some cases those not nursing can get it. It tends to occur mostly in the first three months after childbirth, though it can happen at any time during the breastfeeding period. Medics have also proved that it is safe to continue breastfeeding during treatment.
What causes it?
Mastitis occurs due to inflammation and/or infection of the breast due to blockage of milk ducts or when bacteria enter the breast either through the milk ducts or a crack in the skin. For those not breastfeeding, nipple piercing can lead to mastitis. The inflammation is responsible for the pain and redness.
Breastfeeding women, especially in the first few months after childbirth.
Previous episode of mastitis.
Failure to adequately empty the breast during breastfeeding, especially if the baby is not latching well during breastfeeding.
Wearing a tight bra or tight clothes.
Women with an immune suppressive condition such as diabetes or HIV.
Signs and Symptoms
They tend to develop quite rapidly. You may experience some of the following:
Pain in the breast (usually just one that is affected).
Redness over a specific part of the breast. The redness is usually wedge-shaped.
Hardness of the breast.
Pain either throughout or during breastfeeding. The pain can be quite severe.
Fever and chills.
Flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, joint aches, general malaise/feeling of being unwell.
You may have a whitish or blood-streaked nipple discharge.
If you suspect you have mastitis, you need to see a doctor immediately.
Once the doctor reviews you, he will make a diagnosis based on the signs and symptoms. He will rule out other conditions such as breast lumps, abscesses, and inflammatory cancer (which is not very common). An ultrasound may be needed to exclude these, though in most cases the diagnosis is straightforward. If you do not respond to treatment, your doctor may request a mammogram or breast biopsy to make a diagnosis.
Once your doctor diagnoses mastitis, he will typically prescribe oral antibiotic and pain medicine (and hopefully some time off work to rest). You should also take sufficient fluid and rest adequately.
It is safe and advisable to continue breastfeeding your baby during this time. Contrary to popular belief, the milk is not “spoilt” – it is safe for your baby. Failure to empty the breast may make the condition worse. If you prefer not to breastfeed, then you should express the milk to relieve engorgement.
Mastitis usually responds well to treatment. If it does not, then let your doctor know.
If not treated well or adequately, mastitis can progress to form an abscess. Additionally, once you have had mastitis, you stand a higher chance of recurrence in future. While this condition can be quite painful, it is important to note that it is easily treated and curable.