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.
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.
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.
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.
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."