Women's breasts go through a lot — before, during, and after pregnancy. And while a little tenderness or swelling is normal, sometimes breast pain is a sign of something slightly more serious, like mastitis.
Defined as an inflammation of the breast tissue, mastitis is typically caused by a milk staying in the breast (also known as "milk stasis"), blocked milk ducts, damaged or cracked nipples, or engorged breasts. It can result in severe pain, swelling and warmth. In the event inflammation leads to an infection, symptoms may also include fever and chills. Some women describe the infection as a hard sore spot inside their breast.
Breastfeeding moms are most at risk in the first month following delivery thanks to stress and fatigue increasing your odds of getting the condition. But it can be prevented. "The best way to decrease a mother’s possibility of developing mastitis is by frequent and effective breastfeeding with adequate removal of milk," Sue Hermann, a breastfeeding clinic coordinator and advanced practice nurse at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, tells The Huffington Post Canada.
Though it might be painful, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed, even when diagnosed with mastitis. "The milk is safe and protective for the baby, even while taking pain relievers like ibuprofen," says Hermann. "The mother may express (hand express or breast pump) if it is too uncomfortable for her to breastfeed on the side with mastitis."
Provided there is no infection, mastitis can improve with a little self-care. But Hermann warns if left untreated mastitis can result in a decrease in milk production and ultimately result in an abscess which could require surgical removal.
If the mastitis does not subside, or if it is caused by an infection, consult a doctor as you may require antibiotics.