Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that causes pain, swelling and redness of the breast. Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breast-feeding, although in rare circumstances this condition can occur outside of lactation.
Often, mastitis occurs within the first six weeks after birth (postpartum), but it can happen later during breast-feeding. The condition can leave you feeling exhausted and rundown, making it difficult to care for your baby.
Sometimes mastitis leads a mother mistakenly to wean her baby before she intends to. But you can continue breast-feeding while you have mastitis.
With mastitis, signs and symptoms can appear suddenly and may include:
* Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
* General malaise or feeling ill
* Swelling of the breast
* Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
* Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
* Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or greater
Although mastitis usually occurs in the first several weeks of nursing, it can happen any time during breast-feeding. Mastitis tends to affect only one breast — not both breasts.
Mastitis occurs when bacteria enter your breast through a break or crack in the skin of your nipple or through the opening to the milk ducts in your nipple. Bacteria from your skin’s surface and baby’s mouth enter the milk duct and can multiply — leading to pain, redness and swelling of the breast as infection progresses.
Things that put you at increased risk of mastitis include:
* Sore or cracked nipples, although mastitis can develop without broken skin.
* A previous bout of mastitis while breast-feeding — if you’ve experienced mastitis in the past, you’re more likely to experience it again.
* Using only one position to breast-feed, which may not fully drain your breast.
* Wearing a tightfitting bra, which may restrict milk flow.