Types Of Breast Lumps Found In The Breastfeeding Mother

BSE, Breast Self Exam, Breasts Lumps Found In The Breasts.
What type of lumps are normal while you're breastfeeding, and what's a concern?. Rob Gage/The Image Bank

Breastfeeding and Breast Lumps

Your nursing breasts may feel lumpy at times. During the first few weeks after the birth of your baby, your breasts may become engorged with breast milk making them hard and bumpy. At other times during your breastfeeding experience, you may notice small, tender lumps in your breasts. These are most likely plugged milk ducts. Plugged milk ducts are a common problem of breastfeeding, but they usually go away on their own in a few days.

A lump that does not get smaller or go away after about a week should be checked by your doctor. If your doctor needs to perform any tests to diagnose the lump, you should not have to stop breastfeeding. Ultrasounds, mammograms, needle biopsies, lumpectomies, and blood tests can all be done safely while you continue to nurse. Although, if you need surgery to remove a lump, cyst, or part of the breast tissue for a biopsy, it could affect your milk supply. You should always monitor your milk supply if you are breastfeeding after any type of breast surgery.

Most breast lumps turn out to be nothing serious. However, on a rare occasion, a lump could be cancerous. This is why you should not wait to see your doctor if you have a lump that does not go away. When dealing with cancer, early detection is very important. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer while you are breastfeeding, you and your doctor will have to decide on the treatment.

You will have to stop breastfeeding if the course of your treatment includes chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Types of Breast Lumps

Plugged Milk Ducts: Plugged milk ducts are usually small, hard, tender nodules. They show up all of a sudden and go away within a few day. Most plugged ducts do not require any treatment.

Mastitis: Mastitis is a breast infection. A lump associated with mastitis is painful, and the area surrounding the lump may be warm and red. Mastitis may also be accompanied by a fever. You may need to take antibiotics to heal from a breast infection, so see your doctor for treatment.

Cysts: A cyst is a harmless round or oval lump that contains a collection of fluid. It will feel hard and smooth, and it can be easily moved around inside your breast. Cysts do not usually pose any problems. However, some cysts must be removed.

Fibrocystic Breasts: Some women have lumpy breast tissue that may become tender and feel like multiple small hard nodules in the breasts. Fibrocystic breast cysts are not cancerous and do not affect breastfeeding.

Lipomas: Lipomas are non-cancerous, fatty masses that grow slowly. They are often soft and do not cause pain.

Hematomas: A hematoma is a collection of blood under the skin from trauma or surgery. It can be small or large. The area surrounding the lump is often painful, and it may also be red or swollen.

If the blood is close to the skin, the skin may look discolored or bruised. 

Breast Cancer: A small percentage of breast lumps in breastfeeding women are due to breast cancer. Breast cancer may appear as a hard, painless lump that does not seem to have a definite border. It may also feel as if it is attached to the breast tissue surrounding it making it difficult to move around inside the breast.

Things You Can Do If You Find A Breast Lump

  • Continue to breastfeed. 
     
  • Massage the lump.
     
  • Make sure your baby is latching on correctly. A proper latch allows your baby to remove your breast milk more effectively. This can help to prevent and resolve tender plugged ducts and lumpy engorgement.
     
  • Start each feeding by placing your baby on the breast with the lump. Your baby's suck will be stronger at the beginning of the feeding which can help pull out any clogged milk.
     
  • Breastfeed your baby in a different position to try to drain different areas of the breast. Draining all the areas of your breast can help prevent and resolve plugged milk ducts.
     
  • Use a breast pump after you breastfeed to help fully drain the breast. Pumping may help to dislodge and remove clogs.
     
  • Apply a warm, moist cloth to the area that contains the lump. 
     
  • Wash your breasts and nipples with warm water to remove any dried milk that may be obstructing the flow of milk out of your breasts.
     
  • Avoid tight clothing and tight bras that could put pressure on the affected area. Excess pressure on tender breast tissue can lead to mastitis.
     
  • If the area of the breast around the lump becomes red and warm, or if you develop a fever, see your doctor to check for a breast infection.
     
  • Monitor the size of the lump. A lump that gets smaller or goes away is usually not a concern. A lump that grows in size needs to be examined by your doctor.
     
  • Do not wait to seek treatment for a lump that persists for more than a week.
     
  • While you are breastfeeding, you should still perform your monthly breast self-exam and continue to see your doctor for your yearly physical and examination.

 

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Sixth Edition.  Mosby. Philadelphia. 2005.

Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.

Riordan, J., Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2009.

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