Although relatively rare, if mastitis is not treated effectively (or soon enough), it is possible to develop a breast abscess. This is a collection of pus inside the swollen alveoli and breast tissue. The signs of a breast abscess can be the same as for mastitis (without much improvement using antibiotic treatment), but the swelling over the reddened area often fluctuates and can present as 'pitting oedema'. This is a swelling of the skin that when you push your finger into it, a small impression, or 'pit' stays for a few seconds after you take your finger away.
Treatments for a breast abscess include going into the hospital to have antibiotics through a drip in the vein, and/or an operation to drain the abscess. You can take your baby with you and continue to feed from the breast after the operation, if it is not too painful. Talk to your doctor about making the incision as far away as possible from your areola. If it is too painful to breastfeed, then gentle hand expressing of your milk may be possible. Continuing to empty the breast after the operation will reduce the pressure away from where the abscess was removed. Some women will try and resume their breastfeeding after a couple of days, when the incision is more healed.
It is not uncommon for breast milk to leak from the incision after the removal of a breast abscess. This may persist for a few weeks. However, breast milk does contain many anti-infective and healing agents that can prevent any further infections and help the breast tissue to repair. You may wish to place a clean, gauze dressing over the incision and change this regularly until it completely heals.
Last revised: Thursday, 20 December 2012
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.