Your doctor will do a thorough physical exam and ask you about your signs and symptoms. A culture of your breast milk might help your doctor determine the best antibiotic for you, especially if you have a severe infection.
A rare form of breast cancer — inflammatory breast cancer — also can cause redness and swelling that could initially be confused with mastitis. Your doctor may recommend a mammogram or ultrasound or both. If your signs and symptoms persist even after you complete a course of antibiotics, you may need a biopsy to make sure you don't have breast cancer.
Mastitis treatment might involve:
- Antibiotics. If you have an infection, a 10-day course of antibiotics is usually needed. It's important to take all of the medication to minimize your chance of recurrence. If your mastitis doesn't clear up after taking antibiotics, follow up with your doctor.
- Pain relievers. Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others).
It's safe to continue breast-feeding if you have mastitis. Breast-feeding actually helps clear the infection. Weaning your baby abruptly is likely to worsen your signs and symptoms.
Your doctor might refer you to a lactation consultant for help and ongoing support. Suggestions for adjusting your breast-feeding techniques might include the following:
- Avoiding prolonged overfilling of your breast with milk before breast-feeding.
- Trying to ensure that your infant latches on correctly — which can be difficult when your breast is engorged. Expressing a small amount of milk by hand before breast-feeding might help.
- Massaging the breast while breast-feeding or pumping, from the affected area down toward the nipple.
- Making sure your breast drains completely during breast-feeding. If you have trouble emptying a portion of your breast, apply warm and moist heat to the breast before breast-feeding or pumping milk.
- Breast-feeding on the affected side first, when your infant is hungrier and sucking more strongly.
- Varying your breast-feeding positions.
Lifestyle and home remedies
To relieve your discomfort:
- Avoid prolonged overfilling of your breast with milk before breast-feeding
- Apply cool compresses or ice packs to your breast after breast-feeding
- Wear a supportive bra
- Rest as much as possible
Preparing for your appointment
You may be referred to an obstetrician-gynecologist. For problems related to breast-feeding, you may be referred to a lactation consultant.
What you can do
- Write down your symptoms, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason why you scheduled the appointment.
- Make a list all medications, vitamins and supplements you're taking.
- Write down your key medical information, including other conditions.
- Write down key personal information, including any recent changes or stressors in your life.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Will my mastitis clear on its own or do I need treatment?
- What can I do at home to relieve my symptoms?
- How might my condition affect my baby?
- If I continue to breast-feed, is the medication you're prescribing safe for my baby?
- How long will I have to take the medication?
- What are the chances that the infection will recur? How do I minimize my risk of recurrence?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions that occur to you during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may leave time to go over points you want to spend more time on. You may be asked:
- How long have you had signs and symptoms? Are they in one or both breasts?
- How severe is your pain?
- What is your breast-feeding technique?
- Have you had mastitis previously?