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.
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.