Breast Infection Exams and Tests
The diagnosis of mastitis and a breast abscess can usually be made based on a physical exam.
- If it is unclear whether a mass is due to a fluid-filled abscess or to a solid mass such as a tumor, a test such as an ultrasound may be done. An ultrasound may also be helpful in distinguishing between simple mastitis and abscess or in diagnosing an abscess deep in the breast. This noninvasive test allows your doctor to directly visualize the abscess by placing an ultrasound probe over your breast. If an abscess is confirmed, aspiration or surgical drainage, and IV antibiotics, are often required.
- Cultures may be taken, either of breast milk or of material taken out of an abscess through a syringe, to determine the type of organism causing the infection. This information can help your doctor decide what kind of antibiotic to use.
- Nonbreastfeeding women with mastitis, or those who do not respond to treatment, may have a mammogram or breast biopsy. This is a precautionary measure because a rare type of breast cancer can produce symptoms of mastitis.
Breast Infection Treatment
Breast infections require treatment by a health care provider.
Breast Infection Home Remedies
After you see a doctor, try the following to help your breast infection heal.
- Pain medication: Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil) for pain. These drugs are safe while breastfeeding and will not harm your baby. Your doctor may prescribe a prescription strength pain reliever if your pain is severe and not relieved with over-the-counter medication.
- In mild cases of mastitis, antibiotics may not be prescribed at all. If you are prescribed antibiotics, finishing the prescription even if you feel better in a few days is very important.
- Frequent feedings: Do not stop breastfeeding from the affected breast, even though it will be painful. Frequent emptying of the breast prevents engorgement and clogged ducts that can only make mastitis worse.
- If needed, use a breast pump to relieve pressure and completely empty the breast.
- You can also breastfeed from the unaffected side and supplement with infant formula as needed.
- The infection will not harm the baby because the germs that caused the infection probably came from the baby’s mouth in the first place.
- Breastfeeding should be avoided in the infected breast when an abscess is present.
- Pain relief: A warm compress applied before and after feedings can often provide some relief. A warm bath may work as well.
- If heat is ineffective, ice packs applied after feedings may provide some comfort and relief.
- Avoid using ice packs just before breastfeeding because it can slow down milk flow.
- Drink plenty of water -- at least 10 glasses a day. Eat well-balanced meals and add 500 extra calories a day while breastfeeding. Dehydration and poor nutrition can decrease milk supply and make you feel worse.