A breast abscess is a painful lump in the breast tissue, this is one of
the most serious breastfeeding problems, but is also very rare,
occurring in only about 6% of all breastfeeding mothers that develop mastitis
and/or recurrent plugged ducts condition.
A breast abscess usually results when a mastitis infection
has been left untreated. It occurs as a pouch within the breast, that is
filled with pus and is unable to drain.
A woman who has bouts of recurrent mastitis is more at risk. To prevent an abscess, mothers need to treat
mastitis quickly and efficiently when it appears.
A clinical examination is needed to diagnose if a breast
abscess is present. Here are the symptoms of mastitis to look out for.
Your body will try to get rid of the infection, by forming a hard
tissue breast mass in the infected area. Because a mother has breasts that are full of milk, the
infection will continue to get worse, if she is not treated.
The end result, if not treated, is a mother who experiences tremendously painful, swollen breasts combined with a fever and
other flu-like symptoms.
Symptoms of Breast Abscess
Sharp pain in the breast.
Swollen breast lump.
The lump is red.
Lump in breast feels hot to the touch.
Mom has a high temperature and other flu-like symptoms.
The lump does not disappear after antibiotics have been taken.
is pus draining from the nipple.
What Causes a Breastfeeding Abscess?
The most common cause is cracked nipples. A cracked nipple may allow bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, inside the breast.
Moms who use corticosteroids are more likely to get breast infections.
Moms who are heavy smokers also increase their chances of getting a breast infection.
Treatment of Breast Abscess
Most of the time, an abscess is quite close to the surface of the skin and can be removed in a doctor’s office, without going into surgery. This is usually done by aspiration (draining the abscess with a needle).
If the abscess is smaller than 3cm, a needle is used to drain it. Larger abscesses are drained using a catheter and done via surgery. The wound is usually left open to drain and heal.
If you have the abscess aspirated, it is best to ask your doctor to have the fluid sent to a lab, so that they can prescribe the most appropriate antibiotic for you.
Some mothers find that they have recurrent breast abscess problems if they do not get the lump surgically removed. Sometimes the abscess is also too far down into the tissue and will need to be removed under general or local anesthetic with antibiotics. This is called an I&D “incision and drainage."
When going for an I&D, you should always talk to your doctor about getting the incision made on a fold and from the chest wall towards the nipple, not from the nipple area; this is to prevent cutting into the milk ducts and causing damage that could affect milk supply.
If you are going for an ultrasound (for finding the area of the abscess), it’s always best to drain your breasts as much as possible before the time, so that the tests come out more accurate.
After breast abscesses are removed
Healing of the wound will occur from the inside out, and you will need to place sterile gauze inside the cavity until it has healed completely. Pain in the breast and breast inflammation should subside almost immediately after aspiration or surgery.
Should you Continue to Breastfeed?
Many surgeons will advise that you stop breastfeeding, but here are some advantages of continued breastfeeding after surgery…
Breast milk contains antibodies and healing properties that will help heal the breast much quicker.
Draining the breast can prevent pressure on the incision.
Breast milk will help flush and clean out the wound and infected areas.
Abrupt weaning will most likely cause more infection, due to breast
engorgement. You need to drain your breasts regularly, and this will
prevent infection and sore breasts.
Don’t worry about your baby getting sick from the infection, even if
pus is visible in the milk, mothers are always advised to continue
breastfeeding; it cannot harm your baby in any way.
If the incision was made around the nipple, where your baby would be
placing his/her mouth while feeding, you should stop breastfeeding
until the area has healed.
Mom should express the breast milk to avoid engorgement. If the incision is too close to the nipple to express, she can let the breast dry
up and continue to breastfeed on the other side alone.
Use a warm compress on the breast before breastfeeding or pumping to increase the flow of the milk.
When I became pregnant, I was determined to breastfeed my baby. I educated myself as much as I could, but from the time my baby was born I struggled to get him to latch on.
My milk finally came in on the 5th day and by that time my nipples where broken and bleeding, I had tender breasts, and I was terribly engorged. After a week I had developed mastitis, so I went to the doctor and received antibiotics which helped with the flu symptoms, but not for the breast swelling and the lump.
After going to the doc again, I was told I was going to have to go for surgery. There was a lump of six by six centimeter removed, and a surgical drain was inserted into the incision. The hole of the incision had to be stuffed with gauze until it healed completely from the inside out...so the hole gets smaller and smaller as time goes by.
I was advised to wear a nipple shield on the infected breast and this helped tremendously. Within a couple of weeks, my cracked nipples and incision had healed completely, and I was left with just a little breast tenderness and a small scar.
My advice to any new moms who are planning to breastfeed is to find out as much info as they can, also talk to other moms who are breastfeeding. Most breastfeeding problems can be defeated with support and correct info. It’s always best to get the advice of a lactation consultant instead of a doctor because most doctors will advise you to stop breastfeeding.