What are the symptoms of mastitis?

Q: What is mastitis? How would I know if I have it?

A: If your breasts are killing you -- and you under-the-weather in general -- you may be suffering from mastitis, a breast infection that can make your breasts feel tender, swollen, and hot to the touch. You may also develop a fever, body aches, and chills (as though you have the flu). If you think you have mastitis, you should see a doctor as soon as possible, since you'll need antibiotics to clear the infection. If left untreated, mastitis can turn into a breast abscess that may need surgical draining. In the meantime, it's critical to keep nursing. Don't worry, you can't pass the infection to your baby, and breastfeeding will unclog your milk ducts and help you heal faster. You'll also need to get a lot of rest and take it easy while you recover. (Although you may start feeling better after a couple of days on the meds, remember to always take the entire prescription of antibiotics.) Mastitis can occur when a clogged milk duct goes untreated. To prevent that from happening, try these tips:

- Keep to a predictable nursing schedule, and don't go long hours between feedings except at night, once your baby is ready (milk can become thick and clog the ducts if it gets backed up). - Don't sleep on your stomach, which presses your breasts against your bed. - Don't wear underwire or poorly fitting bras, which also squish your breasts. - Don't carry anything that rubs against your breasts, like a wide-strapped backpack or purse.

 --Jessica Hartshorn

Copyright 2009