Mastitis is a type of breast infection that results in intense pain, inflammation, swelling and redness of the breast tissue. Although mastitis can happen in non-breastfeeding women and even men as well, it is most commonly diagnosed in breastfeeding women giving rise to the term, lactation mastitis.
The breast is composed of several glands and ducts that lead to the nipple and the surrounding coloured areola area. On having a baby, the mammary ducts usually carry the milk to the orifices in the nipple. Mastitis usually happens when there is a hard, spot inside the breast tissue, that can be a resultant of a blocked milk duct or entry of bacteria from broken skin around the nipple. Even though, it most commonly occurs within one to three months after the delivery of a baby, yet they can also occur in women who have not recently delivered or even after menopause. Mastitis often results in making the lactating mother feel run down making it difficult for her to care for her little one.
Mastitis usually happens due to the presence of trapped milk within the breast tissues. This can be due to two reasons:
Clogged Milk Duct: During feeding times, if the breast doesn’t completely empty, the extra breast milk can block the ducts causing more milk to back up, ultimately leading up to breast infection.
Bacterial Invasion: While your little one sucks at the nipple, bacteria from the baby’s mouth, skin surface or clothes can enter the breast tissue through a milk duct opening or cracks in the skin of your nipple. Moreover, the leftover milk in the ducts may provide breeding ground for the bacteria which might aggravate the infection.
Certain causative factors that increase the risk of mastitis include:
- Improper nursing technique
- Infrequent or missed feeding
- Previous spell of mastitis while breast-feeding
- Sore or cracked nipples
- Wearing a tightfitting bra or putting pressure on the breast that might restrict milk flow
- Becoming overly tired or stressed
- Poor nutrition
The common signs and symptoms of mastitis can occur suddenly and include:
- Breast tenderness
- Lump in the breasts or thickening of breast tissue
- Pain or a burning sensation while breast-feeding
- Warm sensation when touched
- Breast swelling
- Nipple discharge
- Redness of the skin around the breasts
- General debility
- Nausea or vomiting
- Body pain and aches
If the breast infection, is not treated on time, the mammary duct that is blocked can cause an accumulation of pus within the breast tissue leading to more pain and inflammation.
Diagnosis And Treatment
On noticing any of the above-mentioned symptoms such as lump or pain in the breast or redness or swelling in the nipple area, do consult a doctor right away to get diagnosed at the earliest. The doctor usually does a thorough physical checkup followed by a few diagnostics which include:
- Imaging technique like Ultrasound, MRI
- Breast milk culture to determine the type of microorganism causing the infection
- Mammogram or breast biopsy
The available treatment options usually include antibiotics to minimize the chance of reoccurrence and pain-relievers to reduce the intense pain and inflammation.
You can also prevent this intense painful condition by following some of the preventive measures which include:
- Express the extra milk from the mammary ducts after breastfeeding
- Change the position you use to breast-feed
- Ensure that your baby latches on properly during feedings
- Stop smoking
- Avoid wearing tight-fitting bras