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Breast Infection

By

Julie S. Moldenhauer

, MD, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Last full review/revision Feb 2022| Content last modified Feb 2022
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A breast infection (mastitis Breast Infection and Breast Abscess Breast infections are usually caused by bacteria. Rarely, breast infections lead to a breast abscess (a collection of pus in the breast). Mastitis refers to painful inflammation of the breast... read more ) can occur after delivery (postpartum infection Infections After Delivery Immediately after delivery, the woman’s temperature often increases. A temperature of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher during the first 12 hours after delivery could indicate an infection but may... read more ), usually during the first 6 weeks and almost always in women who are breastfeeding. If the baby is not positioned correctly during breastfeeding, cracking (and soreness) can develop. If the skin of or around the nipples becomes cracked, bacteria from the skin can enter the milk ducts and cause an infection.

An infected breast usually appears red and swollen and feels warm and tender. Only part of the breast may be red and sore. Women may have a fever.

Rarely, breast infections result in a pocket of pus (abscess). The area around the abscess swells, and pus may drain from the nipple.

Doctors base the diagnosis on results of a physical examination.

Did You Know...

  • If a breast infection develops after delivery, women should usually continue to breastfeed.

Treatment of Breast Infection

  • Antibiotics

  • Treatment of pain and complete emptying of milk from the breast

Breast infections are treated with antibiotics, such as dicloxacillin, cephalexin, clindamycin, or sometimes erythromycin.

Pain and swelling are managed with cold compresses and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen. The breast should be completely emptied when milk ducts are full by breastfeeding or pumping.

Women are encouraged to drink plenty of fluids.

If symptoms of the infection do not lessen or symptoms are serious, women should seek medical attention—for example, if the breast looks red, the redness is spreading, or the woman has fever and chills.

Women who have a breast infection and are breastfeeding should continue to breastfeed because emptying the breast helps with treatment and decreases the risk of a breast abscess.

Breast abscesses are treated with antibiotics and are usually drained surgically. This procedure can be done using a local anesthetic but may require sedatives given by vein (intravenously) or a general anesthetic.

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