What is mastitis?

Mastitis is a breast infection that is caused by bacteria from your skin's surface or your baby's mouth entering your breast through a crack in the skin in your nipple or the opening to the milk ducts in your nipple.  Mastitis can be very painful.  It leads to swelling and redness of your breast and often feels as though you have the flu.  Your breast may be painful, hard, red, and warm, particularly in the area of the infected milk duct, and you may experience a fever over 101, chills, and fatigue.  Approximately 1 in 40 nursing moms develop mastitis.

What conditions make you more susceptible to developing mastitis?

An untreated clogged milk duct (see here) can develop into mastitis.  In addition, as a new mom, you may be especially tired and stressed and may not be eating well, all of which lower your resistance to illness and make you more susceptible to developing mastitis.  Other conditions that may increase your chances of developing mastitis include not completely emptying your breasts of milk (which may sometimes occur due an incorrect latch during breast-feeding), having cracked nipples, and restricting milk flow by wearing a bra that is too tight.

What should I do if I have mastitis?

You should see your doctor immediately if you think you have mastitis to prevent it from getting worse.  Antibiotics are usually needed to treat mastitis.  In addition, rest up and drink plenty of fluids. You may wonder if you can continue breastfeeding if you have mastitis.  Not only can you continue, you should as nursing will help remove the milk from your breasts.  It is not dangerous to your baby.

Importantly, if your mastitis does not improve after taking antibiotics, you should contact your doctor.  This may be the sign of a more serious condition, such as inflammatory breast cancer - which can cause redness and swelling that can be confused with mastitis.