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Mastitis: It’s more common than you think.

We define mastitis as an infection of one or more ducts of the breast. It is often related to breastfeeding and can cause very aggressive illness if not diagnosed and treated promptly.

Mastitis affects 2% to 3% of nursing women.

Mastitis is usually caused by bacteria that we commonly find in the nose and mouth of the baby.

When you develop a crack in the skin, usually on the nipple, a breach in the skin barrier erupts, bacteria use this as an entry site into the breast tissue. They can also enter the breast through the milk duct openings of the nipple. Having diabetes or bruised nipples increase the risk of developing mastitis.

Symptoms of lactational mastitis include the classical pattern of inflammation – a firm, sore, red, tender breast. The breast upper outer part is usually affected. Breast pain occurs all the time or only when she is breastfeeding. Swollen breasts, fever, chills, headaches, and loss of appetite are not uncommon. Signs that an abscess (collection of pus) has occurred include persistent high fever and breast pain.

A diagnosis of mastitis is made based on symptoms and examination. Other tests such as blood tests, breast milk analysis, or cultures, of samples from the baby’s mouth, can be done. But these are rarely needed to confirm the diagnosis or even start treatment.

Once mastitis has been diagnosed, treatment entails relieving pain and discomfort through pain relievers like Panadol and ibuprofen, and breast support through a well-fitting bra.

Related article: Surgical Site Infections: Take a note.

Women with mild mastitis don’t need to stop nursing, but they will require a short course of antibiotics for the infection. Nursing from the unaffected breast, pumping, or expressing the affected breast is suggested. Frequent emptying of the breast may stop bacteria from collecting in it and may help shorten bacteria.

An abscess may have formed if tenderness and fever don’t subside as expected, and then, the clinicians can drain it through surgery.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Lactational Mastitis.

  • DO pay attention to good hygiene practices during nursing. Avoid using drying agents, always wash your hands, and keep your nipples and baby clean.
  • DO breastfeed from the uninfected breast and empty both breasts using a pump on the infected breast.
  • DO avoid getting dehydrated. Drink extra fluids.
  • DO prevent cracking or fissuring of nipples. Use a breast or nipple shield if you have cracked nipples.
  • DO call your health care provider in 1 to 2 weeks to make sure that the infection has subsided.
  • DON’T stop nursing unless your health care provider says so.
  • DON’T ignore worsening symptoms. Untreated mastitis can lead to breast abscesses, a worrying condition.

We are indebted to Ferri’s Netter patient advisor to this information. Get yourself a copy .



MBChB (MUK), Graduate Fellow, Department of Physiology, Makerere University Founder and Content Creator Peer reviewer, Associate Editor

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