What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is mastitis?

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Mastitis is a painful condition that causes breast tissue to become inflamed. It’s most common in breastfeeding women, although women who aren't breastfeeding can develop it. if it is left untreated, then infection can occur.

What are the symptoms of Mastitis?

A red, swollen area on the breast that may feel hot and painful to touch.
An area of hardness on the breast.
A burning pain in the breast that may be continuous or may only occur when breastfeeding.
Nipple discharge - which may be white or may contain streaks of blood.

Over half of women with mastitis may also experience flu-like symptoms such as:

High temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4F) or above.
Shivering and chills.
Feeling generally unwell.

If breastfeeding - a health professional may ask to observe the technique. This is because one of the causes of mastitis is the breast not being effectively drained, and milk stasis can occur which is when milk gets left in the breast. Milk stasis can also occur if the baby is not properly attached to the breast during feeding, so it’s important to make sure the positioning and attachment is right. Another cause is a baby having infrequent feeds or missing feeds - for example, when they start to sleep through the night. Rarely, mastitis can be also caused by pressure on the breast - for example, from tight-fitting clothing, an over-restrictive bra or sleeping position.

What are the treatments and remedies of Mastitis?

Most cases of mastitis can be simply treated.

Rest, drink plenty of fluids, over the counter pain killers (paracetamol or Ibuprofen), wear lose fitting clothing, place a warm compress over the breast.

Breastfeeding should continue. If necessary, express milk in-between feeds. The affected breast should be offered regularly to the baby – (at least 8-12 times a day). Before feeding, the breast can be massaged to release any blockages. Stroke from the lumpy area towards the nipple to help the milk flow.

When breastfeeding, make sure the baby is properly attached to the breast and that the nipple is positioned deep inside the baby's mouth.

The breast should feel softer and lighter after the feed but there may still be a small amount of milk left over. In some cases it may be necessary to feed the baby more frequently or express any remaining milk after a feed using either a breast pump or hand expression.

All cases of infectious mastitis will need to be treated with antibiotics to bring the infection under control.

You should contact your health professional immediately if you think you might have mastitis. Doctors often refer to it as lactation mastitis or puerperal mastitis. Mastitis should be promptly treated to prevent more serious complications developing, such as a breast abscess.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net

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