If you’re experiencing pain and redness in a localized area on your breast or nipple, it may be a breast abscess.
While it can be unnerving to discover a painful lump in your breast, it’s important to remain calm. Still, please don’t ignore it. Make an appointment as soon as possible to see your healthcare provider.
A breast abscess is a pus-filled lump in your breast tissue that is caused by an infection. Though breast abscesses most commonly occur in breastfeeding women, anyone, regardless of gender, can develop one.
Other terms for “breast abscess” may include:
A breast abscess is a benign lesion or a mass in the breast tissue or under the breast’s skin. It is typically painful and filled with pus. Breast abscesses are often a complication of mastitis, an infection of the mammary glands’ tissue.
Your entire breast may be swollen and painful. Or, the infection may be localized to one area of your breast, your areola (the pigmented skin surrounding your nipple), or your nipple. The painful area may be red or even dark purple and bruised.
Breast infections, including mastitis (or infectious mastitis) and breast abscesses, are most often seen in women aged 15 to 45.
Other risk factors for breast abscess may include:
Lactational breast abscesses typically occur because of an infection with Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcal bacteria.
When lactation is not the case, a breast abscess results from a composition of S. aureus, streptococcal, and anaerobic bacteria. These bacteria do not grow where oxygen is present—instead, they develop in places such as the gut.
Breastfeeding your new baby can be a joyful time. Still, it can come with some discomfort if you don’t take care of yourself.
Among the most common causes of breast pain and abscess in breastfeeding mothers is mastitis and plugged milk ducts.
Sore nipples and engorgement are part of being new to breastfeeding a newborn. Still, you can take steps to gain relief and prevent a more severe condition like cracked nipples or engorgement that leads to a breast abscess.
When your milk first comes in, your breasts will become engorged. The engorgement will subside within 12-48 hours with a bit of help from you and your baby together.
If your nipples become dry and cracked, take steps to heal them. Cracked nipples can invite bacteria and possibly cause an infection.
To ease breastfeeding discomfort, take a few steps before feeding your baby:
After You Feed Your Baby:
Things To Avoid When Breastfeeding:
Mastitis (inflammation of the breast) is a common problem for breastfeeding women.
Symptoms of mastitis include:
If your nipples become dry and cracked, bacteria can enter your breast during feeding or at any other time, leading to an abscess.
It is usually safe to continue to breastfeed your baby as usual from both breasts if you have mastitis.
Though you may object to the thought of nursing your baby when your breasts are in pain, breastfeeding will actually benefit you by:
When breastfeeding, offer your baby the breast with the blocked duct first and let the baby feed until it is completely drained.
Your healthcare practitioner or a breastfeeding nurse (lactation consultant) will be able to advise you on the approach you should take. They can also offer general breastfeeding advice to help prevent mastitis in the future.
If you have developed a breast abscess, you may see or feel a mass or lump in your breast tissue. There could be redness and pain, as well as other symptoms of an infection.
Breast abscess signs and symptoms may include:
Mastitis can quickly progress to a breast abscess if it’s not treated promptly. If you suspect that you have mastitis or a breast abscess, don’t wait to see your medical provider.
You should seek medical advice immediately.
Contact your healthcare professional if you see:
• Pus or blood in your milk
• Red streaks
• Symptoms of mastitis that start suddenly
• Severe symptoms of mastitis
Your clinician will ask a few questions about your symptoms and perform a physical exam of your breasts. They may also ask for an ultrasound, or they may take a biopsy of the fluid inside the lump in your breast.
Your medical provider may need to perform surgical drainage of the fluid from the lump. This simple outpatient procedure is done by extracting the fluid with a needle and syringe or by anesthetizing the area, making a small incision, and draining the fluid.
Your clinician will likely use a needle aspiration if you are lactating or if the mass is less than three centimeters large.
There is a higher recurrence rate for breast abscesses in those who are not lactating, which means you may have more than one extraction or drainage procedure.
If the drained abscess leaves a large cavity, a healthcare professional will need to pack it with gauze to help keep it dry and sanitary. The cavity will drain for a day or two. Keep the healing area clean and dry by replacing your bandages regularly with dry, sterile dressings.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic therapy, especially if the infection was caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common type of bacteria that causes breast abscesses. It’s essential that you take the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if you believe your symptoms have subsided.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can offer pain relief. You can also use warm compresses to soothe the inflammation.
Your clinician will likely ask you to make a follow-up appointment to ensure that your abscess has adequately healed.
Breast cancer rarely causes pain and inflammation, and a breast abscess is not a sign of cancer. However, inflammatory breast cancer is an uncommon type of breast cancer that may produce symptoms similar to those of a breast abscess.
If you are not breastfeeding and don’t have other risk factors for an abscess, but you are experiencing breast abscess symptoms, contact your healthcare provider. You may want to go in for a clinical breast exam and a mammogram.
As the second leading cause of cancer in women, breast cancer is something we should all be vigilant about. Do your regular breast self-exams and schedule a regular annual screening mammogram. Early breast cancer screening can save lives.
If you’re curious about your risk of breast or other types of cancer, take ezra’s five-minute online assessment.