Breast infections: What to know

By Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA 

Reviewed by Deborah
Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA

Symptoms | Types and causes | Diagnosis | Treatment | Home remedies | Outlook
A breast infection occurs when
bacteria invade the breast, resulting in inflammation. Inflammation of the
breast is called mastitis.
While many people associate
this condition with breastfeeding, people who are not breastfeeding can also
get breast infections.
This article will explore
breast infections in more detail, including their symptoms, risk factors, and
treatment options.
In some cases, a person with a
breast infection may notice an infected lesion on the surface of the breast.
Other times, pain deep in the breast might indicate an infection.
Breast infection symptoms can

  • the breast feeling hot to the
  • cracked or damaged nipples
  • a fever
  • flu-like symptoms, including
    body aches and feeling tired
  • nausea
  • pain in the breast
  • red streaks on the breast
  • sores on the breast that will
    not heal
Some people may develop ulcers
on their skin, which may leak pus or blood.
and causes
There are several types of breast
infection, which include:

  • Central or subareolar
    , which occurs when the milk ducts become infected or inflamed with an
    abscess. This infection is most likely to develop in people who smoke tobacco.
    In addition to experiencing symptoms on both breasts, it is common to notice
    nipple changes, such as nipple retraction or unusual discharge.
  • Granulomatous lobular
    , which can cause a painful but noncancerous mass to develop in the
    breast. People with this breast condition may have problems treating the
    infection with antibiotics.
  • Peripheral, nonlactating
    , which most commonly occurs in people with existing medical
    conditions, such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. Those who have a history
    of breast trauma or take steroids are also at greater risk. This type of
    infection often leads to inflammation or a visible abscess on the breast.
  • Skin infection, such as
    cellulitis. Possible causes of skin infection include sebaceous cysts, which
    are cysts that grow on oil-producing glands. People with large breasts or those
    with a history of breast surgery or radiotherapy have a higher risk of this
Mastitis is more common during
breastfeeding because a woman may experience nipple cracking that can introduce
bacteria into the breast.
Also, a milk duct can become
clogged due to incomplete breast emptying or excess pressure on the breast.
Clogged milk ducts allow bacteria to multiply, which can lead to an infection.
A doctor will ask about a
person’s symptoms and whether they are breastfeeding, have a history of breast
trauma, or have ever had surgery or treatments on the breast.
The doctor will also ask about
additional symptoms, such as a fever, chills, or fatigue. They may physically
examine the breast and nipple too.
In some instances, they may
take a culture or swab of breast discharge to determine the type of bacteria
growing in the breast. Knowing the type of bacteria can help a doctor prescribe
the right medication.
The treatment for a breast
infection often depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the
If a person has a breast
abscess, a doctor may recommend draining the abscess.
A doctor will usually
prescribe antibiotics if the infection is due to bacteria. Typically, symptoms
will start to improve within 1–2 days of treatment.
People should always take the
full course of antibiotics, even if they start to feel better before completing
In rare instances, a person
may require surgery to remove a damaged duct to keep the infection from
However, surgery is a last
resort when taking antibiotics and draining the cyst are ineffective.
A person can use a variety of
home remedies to minimize the pain and discomfort of the infection.
Home remedies include:

  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC)
    pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids and
    resting whenever possible.
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothing
    and avoiding tight bras.
If a woman’s breast infection
is due to breastfeeding, she can take the following steps to reduce discomfort
and minimize the likelihood of the infection coming back:

  • Continuing to breastfeed
    unless a doctor says otherwise. A woman will not pass the infection on to a
  • Using the infected breast
    first when breastfeeding to ensure that it empties. However, if this is too
    painful, a woman may begin with the opposite breast. She can then switch to the
    affected one afterward, when the baby’s sucking motion may be gentler.
  • Applying warm, moist
    compresses to the painful breast.
  • Trying to adopt different
    positions during breastfeeding so that the breast can empty. A lactation
    consultant can sometimes help with identifying alternative body positions or
    other ways to facilitate breastfeeding.
  • Massaging the areas of the
    breast that feel hard with gentle pressure while breastfeeding. This massage
    can help prevent the duct from clogging.
If a person’s symptoms do not
improve with antibiotics and OTC treatments, they should talk to a doctor.
People should also see a
doctor if they have red streaks that originate on the breast and extend to the
underarm or if blood or pus is present in breast milk.

A breast infection can occur
due to breastfeeding, or it can be the result of injuries or damage to the
Anyone who suspects that they
have an infection should see a doctor, who can provide antibiotics or drain an
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.