Mastitis is an acute infection of the mammary glands inside the breast. These glands produce milk, so the infections are most common during breastfeeding because bacteria can enter the breast through the nipple from the baby’s mouth.
However, women who have never breastfed, and even women in menopause, can still suffer from this type of infection. It also has a rare chronic form that is more common in women who have never breastfed. Up to 3% of all breastfeeding mothers experience at least one mastitis infection.
Regardless of the cause, mastitis triggers symptoms such as:
There should be no discharge from the nipple, aside from milk and potential clots. If there is distinct discharge aside from breast milk or at all when not producing milk, it’s likely a more serious problem with the mammary glands like cancer. You should also see a doctor immediately if the breasts become reddened, swell noticeably, or develop a distinct lump.
There are two main causes of mastitis:
Fresh human milk does not get infected. But when milk gets trapped in the milk ducts due to a blockage, infections such as mastitis can occur. Milk stasis is a leading cause of mastitis in breastfeeding women.
The milk may fail to drain properly from the breast because the nursing mother does not have the proper skill of breastfeeding or the baby is unable to feed adequately. When the breasts are improperly drained time and again, stale milk may get trapped in the milk ducts.
Bacteria may enter the breast through a crack on the nipples or an opening in the milk ducts causing infection. Breast milk, however, has antibacterial properties which keep a baby protected from infection. Infection is the leading cause of mastitis in non-breastfeeding women.
While many cases of mastitis clear up without treatment, it’s necessary to see your doctor if you’re running a fever or the infection interferes with your ability to breastfeed or pump milk. Dizziness, nausea, and a high fever are also signs the infection is serious enough to warrant emergency treatment.
Most cases are diagnosed through a breast milk culture. A biopsy may be needed to determine what kind of infection is occurring so medication can be targeted for the best effect. It is especially important to choose the right antibiotics to deal with chronic mastitis. Some women may need surgery to remove mammary glands that keep becoming re-infected.
Here are a few tips to prevent mastitis infection.