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Mastitis is a condition of inflammation and infection of the breast. It occurs when bacteria enter into the ducts through an open area in the nipple. Mothers who are breastfeeding are most likely to have mastitis. It can occur in women who are not lactating (producing milk) and occurs rarely in men. Often the source of the bacteria is from the mouth or nose of the nursing infant. The most common bacteria is Staphylococcus aureus (commonly called "Staph") and, less frequently, Staphylococcus epidermidis or beta hemolytic streptococcus. These bacteria are very responsive to antibiotic treatment.

Factors which lead to mastitis are an abrasion on the nipple, blocked milk ducts, or an incomplete let-down reflex, usually due to emotional trauma. Milk ducts can become blocked from pressure from a very tight fitting bra or prolonged times between breast feedings. Bacteria enter the nipple, move to the ducts and begin to grow in the milk that is blocked. Mastitis may develop anytime, but is most common three to four weeks after giving birth.

Signs and Symptoms of Mastitis

  • Breast becomes swollen, tender and warm
  • Fever of 101° F
  • Flu-like symptoms with extreme fatigue
  • Breast pain

Your physician should be notified if any of these symptoms or signs should arise.

Your Physician Will:

  • Examine your breast
  • Culture the fluid from the breast
  • If infection is present, order antibiotics
  • Inform you if you can continue to breast feed (most mild cases do not prevent nursing)

You Can:

  • Manage pain with analgesics such as Tylenol®
  • Use ice packs on the breast
  • Wear a good fitting bra to give support and prevent movement
  • Minimize activities that require vigorous arm or body movements
  • Take all medication prescribed by physician (symptoms may improve in 2-3 days, but complete the entire course of medication)

Mastitis is a common occurrence. Your physician should be informed of any symptoms to prevent further spread of the infection.

After mastitis, the affected area of your breast may have a change in texture. Some changes may show up on a mammogram as microcalcifications. Inform your examiner or mammographer of your history of mastitis.