A breast lump alarms most women under normal circumstances, but breastfeeding mothers might also worry about how the lump could affect their babies. While many women immediately fear breast cancer, they should rest assured that it is extremely rare in breastfeeding women. La Leche League International reports that for each year she breastfeeds, a woman’s risk of breast cancer decreases by 4.3 percent. In most cases, a breast lump is not serious and will not adversely affect the baby or the breastfeeding relationship. However, any time a woman has a breast lump, she should contact her doctor or midwife immediately.
Hard breast lumps that still move slightly within the breast and are uniform in shape are likely the result of a plugged duct, mastitis, an abscess or a galactocele. A plugged duct is the least serious but it must be treated immediately so it does not worsen into mastitis or an abscess. If a woman has mastitis, she will also have a high fever and flu-like symptoms. Often she will have red streaks radiating from the nipple. An abscess results when a plugged duct swells dramatically, sometimes to the size of a lime. A galactocele is a small cyst filled with milk. Cancerous breast lumps are fixed and irregular in shape and texture.
- Hard breast lumps that still move slightly within the breast and are uniform in shape are likely the result of a plugged duct, mastitis, an abscess or a galactocele.
- A plugged duct is the least serious but it must be treated immediately so it does not worsen into mastitis or an abscess.
Pimple-Like Bumps on the Breast
A woman might feel a plugged duct develop over a period of days and it might last several days, according to the breastfeeding resource Kellymom.com. Most types of breast lumps resolve themselves fairly quickly with treatment. The exceptions are abscesses and breast cancer 1.
A lump in the breast does not mean a mother must stop breastfeeding. In most cases, she should actually try to breastfeed more in order to help the lump pass on through the breast. In the case of mastitis, which is an infection, the baby receives important antibodies through the breast milk. The only times a mother cannot breastfeed because of a lump are if she has an abscess removed close to her nipple or if she is undergoing chemotherapy.
- A lump in the breast does not mean a mother must stop breastfeeding.
- The only times a mother cannot breastfeed because of a lump are if she has an abscess removed close to her nipple or if she is undergoing chemotherapy.
A Breast Lump in a Male
Plugged ducts are treated with rest, frequent draining of the breast and, if desired, an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen. Mastitis also requires antibiotics. An abscess almost always requires surgery. A galactocele can either be drained or left alone. Breast cancer usually requires surgery followed by chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
- Plugged ducts are treated with rest, frequent draining of the breast and, if desired, an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen.
- An abscess almost always requires surgery.
While it might be difficult, breastfeeding mothers need to make it a priority to take extra care of themselves in order to replace the extra energy stores lost to breast-milk production. Most breast lumps are the result of inadequate rest and fluids and poor nutrition. Perhaps mothers would be best advised to remember Kellymom.com’s helpful aphorism, “Heat, massage, rest, empty breast.”
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- American Cancer Society: Can Breast Cancer Be Found Early?
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- American Cancer Society. Fibrosis and Simple Cysts in the Breast
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- American Cancer Society. Mastitis
- American Cancer Society. Duct Ectasia
- Nur Zeinomar Kelly‐Anne Phillips Mary B. Daly Roger L. Milne, et al. Benign breast disease increases breast cancer risk independent of underlying familial risk profile: Findings from a Prospective Family Study Cohort. Int J Cancer. 2019;145: 370-379. doi:10.1002/ijc.32112
- American Cancer Society. Intraductal Papillomas of the Breast
- Cohen MA, Newell MS. Radial Scars of the Breast Encountered at Core Biopsy: Review of Histologic, Imaging, and Management Considerations. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2017;209(5):1168-1177. doi:+10.2214/AJR.17.18156
- American Cancer Society. Hyperplasia of the Breast (Ductal or Lobular)
- American Cancer Society. Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS)
- American Cancer Society. Phyllodes Tumors of the Breast
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- American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms
- American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Early Detection and Diagnosis
- American Cancer Society. Treating Breast Cancer
- Jha A, Agrawal V, Tanveer N, Khullar R.Metaplastic breast carcinoma presenting as benign breast lump. J Cancer Res Ther. 2017 Jul-Sep;13(3):593-596. doi: 10.4103/0973-1482.183221.
- Salemis NS.Intracystic breast carcinoma. An important differential diagnosis in postmenopausal patients presenting with a rapidly growing breast cyst. Management and literature review. Breast Dis. 2018;37(4):219-224. doi: 10.3233/BD-170316.
Jordan Bucher is a journalist in Austin, Texas who has been writing professionally since 1998. She is also an AFAA-trained group exercise instructor and a DONA-trained postpartum doula. She holds a BA in English from Carleton College and a certificate from The University of Denver Publishing Institute.