Mastitis is every breastfeeding mom’s nightmare. (That, and teething babies.) An infection that causes breast inflammation and makes you feel flu-ish all over, mastitis is a pain in the … well, you get it.
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And while mastitis is treatable with antibiotics, some women will develop a full-blown infection known as an abscess.
Here’s why you might develop an abscess while nursing and when you should see your doctor for treatment.
A breast abscess usually starts as mastitis because a lactation duct doesn’t empty and becomes plugged. Any nursing mom can get mastitis. It often develops when moms wean their babies too quickly. Other risk factors include being overweight and smoking (in case you needed another reason to avoid smoking).
In some cases, a break in the skin (watch out for baby’s dagger-like nails) can become infected and worsen with time.
Mastitis symptoms include:
You know mastitis has developed into an abscess when you feel a hard, red, fluid-filled mass on your breast that is very painful.
“At the first sign of mastitis, contact your doctor to let them know what’s going on,” says Dr. Brant. “Depending on how severe your symptoms are, your doctor may want you to start on nursing-safe antibiotics immediately.”
Dr. Brant says that you can and should continue nursing, even if you begin a course of antibiotics. She offers these additional tips:
“Your Ob/Gyn may refer you to a breast surgeon or general surgeon,” says Dr. Brant. “Treatment for a breast abscess is usually done as an outpatient procedure.”
To drain the abscess, your doctor may use:
After your provider drains the abscess, you can continue to breastfeed (though you may experience some discomfort as you heal). Continue to use moist hot packs and keep the area clean to speed your recovery. Soon, you’ll be back to pain-free nursing sessions in your favorite chair (feet up and a tall glass of ice water by your side, natch).