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"Why Is my Breast so Swollen and Red?"

Ann E. Butenas


One day while nursing my son, I noticed that it was quite a painful experience, more than just ordinary discomfort associated with the letdown while nursing.

This was shockingly painful. I noticed, too, that I started to feel almost as if I had the flu, and a fever suddenly developed. I began to wonder what was going on and if this would mean the end of my breastfeeding career with my son.

After I finished feeding my son, I examined myself where it felt painful and noticed that there was a big red patch just on the outside of my left breast. It was swollen and painful to the touch. Feeling feverish, I took my temperature and laid down to rest for awhile. I had a fever of just over 102 degrees. I initially thought I had a case of the flu and that the inflammation on my breast was either associated with it or coincidental.

I called my doctor to advise her of my condition. As I described to her what I had and how I was feeling, she concluded I had mastitis and gave me a prescription for antibiotics. Needless to say, many questions crossed my mind during this time. Here are some general questions regarding mastitis and some helpful answers. Of course, it is always best to consult your health care provider when anything like this or anything unusual occurs during your breastfeeding days. These are merely guidelines to educate and assist you.

*What is mastitis?

Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast. It can result from a plugged duct or an infection. This usually comes on suddenly, and, as I indicated, you can develop flu-like symptoms. The infected breast, which is usually the left one, will become hot, red, and swollen. It usually occurs just in one breast. If you are a nursing mother and exhibit these symptoms, please see your doctor as soon as possible.

*When does this usually occur?

This infection will most likely occur during the first three months after your baby is born, with the highest incidence being in the first three weeks. However, in my case, it came on during the 8th month of nursing.

*What causes mastitis?

Many conditions can trigger this infection. These include stress, fatigue, a plugged duct, a change in the feeding pattern, over supply; a tight-fitting bra, a cracked nipple, or engorgement.

*How do I treat it?

Make sure you feed your baby from both breasts. To make yourself more comfortable, begin to have your baby nurse on the uninfected side first. This will allow for the letdown of the milk on the infected side before you begin nursing there. If your baby does not feed well from both breasts, then check into using a breast pump, most of which can be rented for short periods of time. Use the pump following the feedings. Frequent feedings will keep the breasts soft and will help to alleviate the discomfort. I even used a warm, moist washcloth and applied it to the infected area to help with some of the pain.

**Do I continue to breastfeed while I have this infection?

It is very important to continue with your breastfeeding while being treated for this infection. This will actually help you to heal much more quickly. Your breastmilk has certain antibodies that will protect your baby from the bacteria that is causing the infection.

*How will my baby react to mastitis?

Your baby may be fussy when nursing when you have this infection. Sodium levels in your milk rise during mastitis and may contribute to a salty taste. Some babies may even refuse the affected breast because of this. If this happens to you, be sure to pump that side when you nurse to keep the milk supply flowing.

My bout with mastitis did not last too long, but, as fate would have it, I developed it a few more times down the road, but at least I knew what it was, how to treat it, and what to expect. Having nursed three babies for a cumulative total of 40 months, I guess I could not avoid it! We all came out just fine, however!

REMEMBER! Always consult your physician if you suspect you have this condition. Be sure to follow his or her recommendations and make sure you use the antibiotics as directed. You will soon be feeling much better and get back to the enjoyment of your nursing experience.

(Some of this information was provided by Debbie Donovan, Board Certified Lactation Consultant.)

Taking Medications While Breastfeeding Experts: Nursing Mother has Recurring MastitisSore Nipples By Jack Newman, M.D

Ann E Butenas is a stay-at-home mom of three preschool-age boys. She has an undergraduate degree in Communications, a post-bachelor paralegal certificate, and a Master's in Business Management. She earned the latter during her first two pregnancies while running an at-home business at the same time. She has been professionally published as a writer since the age of 12.

Ann currently owns and operates ANZ Publications, a publications business specializing in family-riented projects. Her most recent project includes a very unique medical and dental records binder.a great way to keep track of a child's complete medical history from birth through adolescence. Visit the site at ANZ is an acronym, by the way, for her son's Alec, Noah, and Zach. It is pronounced as "Ann's," for her first name, but spelled as such to include the boys!

Her website showcases her new book.

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Showing 1 - 3 out of 3 Comments
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Holly Mar 4, 2012 07:15:56 PM ET

This is great information, but can it happen before you give birth and in both brests? This article is the closest thing that is happening to my daughter and no one has any idea what is going on with her. She's only 5 months along, and both breasts are affected, the dorctor has put ther on antibiotics. The only difference is, she has no fever and she feels fine. Both her breasts are completely red and swollen and they are hot, but she has no fever, no aches and pains.

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Val Jun 3, 2011 10:04:53 PM ET

I know this article is old, but it has been a huge help for me! i came home yesterday after picking my children up from school and it just hit me. felt like i had the flu. body aching, i live in florida and its in the 90s i was wearing a jacket outside because i was freezing! later last night decided to take my temperature and i had a fever of over 104. along with the flu like symptoms my breast has a huge red spot on it that i noticed today. so now that i know i need to see the doc, i am headed that way! thanks

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Meli Feb 23, 2010 07:00:32 AM ET

Thank you so much fir thus article. I was going crazy trying to figure out what was wrong with me when I came across this article. It is exactly what I have. This is my second time breastfeeding and I feel more lost now then before. I never had a problem b-f with the first but this time around has been quite a challenge. But I'm trying to hang in there for my babys health and mine I know breast is best. anyways so Luckily I was already going to my primary and they were able to prescribe some antibiotics to help me get better. Hopefully thus will clear up the problem and make it a little easier to nurse my little eating machine. Thanks !!!!!

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