Mastitis is a painful condition where one or both breasts becomes red and swollen. It can look like a red patch or line on the skin of the breast and it feels painful to feed. It can produce symptoms similar to flu with aches and a temperature. You should keep breastfeeding on the affected breast as frequent milk removal is important and if necessary your doctor can prescribe you antibiotics that are safe to use while nursing.
Make sure your baby is properly attached when breastfeeding to minimise the risk of mastitis.
Mastitis can develop from blocked milk ducts and is more likely if you have damaged or bleeding nipples.
If you have mastitis encourage your baby to breast-feed from the affected breast to help move the milk out of the breast - or express the milk to relieve the blockage.
If you have a bacterial infection in the breast, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection.
Signs of mastitis
Areas of your breasts might be:
You may also feel an inflamed lump, which is from the build-up of milk in your breast. This is usually what causes the mastitis.
Once the infection has occurred, you may also have flu-like symptoms, such as:
Having mastitis can be really exhausting and make you feel very ill and tearful, but with the right approach, it can be cleared up quickly. It’s usually only in one breast, but it’s possible to have it in both breasts at the same time. Unfortunately, you can get mastitis more than once.
It’s most common for first-time Mums and during the first few weeks when you’re getting the hang of breastfeeding. The peak time for it to happen is 21 days after the birth. If you keep an eye on your breasts and pick up on early signs of redness or hard lumps you can often prevent it turning into mastitis by feeding baby on that side, massaging the area and expressing to move the milk and clear the blockage.
Common causes of mastitis
The most common root causes of mastitis include:
Build up of milk in your breast.
Usually caused by ineffective attachment.
Cracked nipples becoming infected.
The number one cause of sore nipples and mastitis is ineffective or a poor latch. Nipple creams do not solve this problem. Instead, they soothe the symptoms of the underlying attachment problem. It is really important that you get help immediately from the best breastfeeding support around you. This might be breastfeeding counsellors at your local breastfeeding drop in clinic or a qualified IBCLC lactation consultant.
The good news is that once your baby latches on properly, things can start to clear up very quickly.
Follow these steps to help manage the symptoms of mastitis:
It is crucial that you continue to breastfeed as stopping will make mastitis a lot worse. Feeding with mastitis will not harm your baby in any way. You should also continue breastfeeding if you are taking antibiotics. You should be given ones which are compatible with breastfeeding.
Feed on affected breast first as early vigorous suckling will clear the blockage. If it hurts too much start on other side and move to affected side after a few minutes.
Massage the swollen lumpy area during feeding to help clear the blockage. A wide toothed comb can help as a massage aid if area very sensitive. You can also use an electric toothbrush as a massager.
After feeding, express your breast to empty it as much as possible. Warm flannels or running a warm shower over your breast will encourage a good flow of milk.
Continue to feed/express frequently until symptoms improve.
Take care of yourself. You need to rest and drink lots of fluids. Over counter painkillers can help with pain and anti-inflammatory tablets will reduce inflammation.
If your symptoms do not improve within 12-24 hours you may need antibiotics and contact your GP immediately if you see pus on your nipples or if you feel very unwell.
If you have a crack on your nipple, you can use a medical grade lanolin cream (if you are not allergic to lanolin) or white petroleum jelly to prevent scabbing and promote moist wound healing of cracked nipples.
Wash the areas daily with plain soap and water, no perfumed products.
Try the rugby breastfeeding position on that side, changing positions can often help clear things up. Some mums use a ‘dangle feed’ where they lie baby on a flat surface and lean over them on all fours. The breast dangles over the baby.
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.
Essential Parent is one of the world's leading resources for expert led parenting advice. Our mission is to make sure that every parent has free access to the best information available. Our topics are put together by leading experts following the advice of medical institutions such as the RCPCH, the NCT, UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, The St John Ambulance, The Child Accident Prevention Trust, The Meningitis Research Foundation, The National Literacy Trust and many more.