A breast infection, also called mastitis, is soreness or a lump in the breast that can be accompanied by a fever and/or flu-like symptoms, such as feeling run down or very achy. Some women with a breast infection also have nausea and vomiting. You also may have yellowish discharge from the nipple that looks like colostrum or the breasts may feel warm or hot to the touch and appear pink or red. A breast infection can occur when other family members have a cold or the flu, and like a plugged duct, it usually only occurs in one breast. It is not always easy to tell the difference between a breast infection and a plugged duct because both have similar symptoms and can improve within 24 to 48 hours. Most breast infections that do not improve on their own within this time period need to be treated with an antibiotic. Learn more about medicines and breastfeeding.
- You can help relieve soreness and speed healing by applying heat to the sore area. You can use a heating pad or a small hot-water bottle. Cabbage leaves should not be used for a plugged duct. It also helps to massage the area, starting behind the sore spot. Use your fingers in a circular motion and massage toward the nipple.
- Breastfeed often on the affected side. This helps loosen the plug, keeps the milk moving freely, and keeps the breast from becoming overly full. Breastfeeding every two hours, both day and night on the affected side first, can be helpful.
- Getting extra sleep or relaxing with your feet up can help speed healing. Often a plugged duct or breast infection is the first sign that a mother is doing too much and becoming overly tired.
- Wear a well-fitting supportive bra that is not too tight, since this can constrict milk ducts.
Ask for help if you do not feel better within 24 hours of trying these tips, or if you have a fever or your symptoms worsen. You can see both a lactation consultant and your doctor since you might need an antibiotic. If you have a breast infection in which both breasts look affected, or if there is pus or blood in the milk, red streaks near the area, or your symptoms came on severely and suddenly, see your doctor right away. Even if you need an antibiotic, continuing to breastfeed during treatment is best for both you and your baby.