Breastfeeding is one of the most natural and essential bodily functions that has innumerable advantages for both the mother and her newborn. But, it is also true that the process can prove to be a little challenging, especially for first-time mothers. Among other things, women often notice the presence of breast lumps when they feed their baby. Dr Rohan Khandelwal, Consultant, The Breast Centre, CK Birla Hospital says that lumps can not only lead to anxiety, but can also sometimes signal something as ominous as cancer.
Here are some common causes:
Milk collection (Galactocele): Probably the most common cause of breast lumps in breastfeeding mothers, it occurs due to a blocked duct. The patient can feel a painful lump in the breast. It can sometimes also occur if the breast milk is not emptied at regular intervals.
“Management of galactocele/milk collection can range from emptying of breast milk either by feeding or by using a breast pump. Hot fomentation/gentle massage also works well in this condition. If the problem occurs frequently, one should consult a lactation expert/doctor for further evaluation,” says Dr Khandelwal.
Breast abscess/mastitis: This is inflammation of the breast tissue which can progress to pus formation as well, he says. “It is secondary to a bacterial infection and you would be surprised to know the source of the bacteria is the child’s mouth. These bacteria can enter through the nipple (more common in ladies with cracked/sore nipples) and lead to infection.”
“The patient usually develops intense pain in the breast, which can be associated with redness and fever as well. If one notices any such symptoms, they should visit their breast surgeon immediately. In the initial stages, this condition is managed using antibiotics. In case pus develops, the surgeon is left with no option but to drain the pus out by performing a minor surgery. If the abscess is large, your doctor might also recommend stopping breastfeeding using a drug,” the doctor explains.
Breast cancer: This can sometimes be detected during breastfeeding. Dr Khandelwal says the lumps can initially be mistaken for a milk collection, but unlike milk collections, they don’t respond to simple measures and keep increasing in size. Sometimes these lumps might even be painless. Due to these two reasons, cancers can often increase in size before they are detected in breastfeeding mothers.
“If a mother notices a lump in the breast during breastfeeding, which does not settle in a few days, she should immediately visit a breast cancer surgeon and get herself evaluated. If the surgeon is suspecting a cancer, they will order an ultrasound followed by a needle biopsy to confirm the diagnosis,” he says.
It is good to be aware of these lumps and one should not delay meeting with a doctor in case they notice such problems. “Having said that, majority of the mothers have an uneventful lactation period. Over the last few years it has been seen that mothers are reducing the duration of breastfeeding due to professional commitments. Given its advantages, women should breast-feed at least for six to eight months,” he concludes.