How Do I Know If I Have Mastitis?

Mastitis is a condition which causes a woman's breast tissue to become painful and inflamed. 

Mastitis is a condition which causes a woman's breast tissue to become painful and inflamed. It's most common in breastfeeding women, usually within the first three months after giving birth.

Although Mastitis commonly occurs in the first few months of breastfeeding, you could get it at any point.

Symptoms of mastitis:
Mastitis usually only affects one breast, and symptoms often develop very quickly. Symptoms of mastitis can include:
  • a red, swollen area on your breast that may feel hot and painful to touch 
  • a small lump in your breast or area of hardness on your breast 
  • a burning pain in your breast that may be continuous or may only occur when you are breastfeeding 
  • discharge from your nipple, which may be white or contain streaks of blood   
Often you will also experience flu-like symptoms, such as aches, a high temperature (fever), chills and tiredness.

When to seek medical advice:
Contact your GP as soon as possible if you think you might have mastitis. It may help to try some self-help measures before your appointment.
It's important to see your GP promptly as mastitis could lead to a painful collection of pus (a breast abscess) which may need to be drained surgically.

Causes of mastitis:
In breastfeeding women, mastitis is often caused by a build-up of milk within the breast. This is known as milk stasis.

Milk stasis can occur for a number of reasons, including:
  • baby having poor latch
  • a baby having problems sucking (tongue tie)
  • infrequent feeds or missing feeds 
In some cases, this build-up of milk can also become infected with bacteria. This is known as infective mastitis.

Diagnosing mastitis:
Your GP can often diagnose mastitis based on your symptoms and an examination of your breasts.
If you're breastfeeding, they may ask you to show them how you breastfeed. Try not to feel as if you're being tested or blamed – it can take time and practise to breastfeed correctly.

Your GP may request a small sample of your breast milk for testing if:
  • your symptoms are particularly severe 
  • you've had recurrent episodes of mastitis 
  • you are on antibiotics and your condition hasn't improved 
This will help determine whether you have a bacterial infection and allow your GP to prescribe an effective antibiotic.

Treating mastitis:
Mastitis can usually be easily treated and most women make a full recovery very quickly.
Self-help measures are often helpful, such as:
  • Massage - if you feel a hard spot in your breast, begin massaging it immediately, preferably while nursing. This little spot is likely a plugged duct, which is more easily cleared before the breast becomes too engorged and tender
  • Heat - placing heat on the engorged breast will help soften the blockage and encourage the milk to flow.
  • A shower - getting into the shower can be an ideal way to soften your breasts. If ever I could feel a little blockage forming, standing in a hot shower facing the spray and letting the water work it out often helped.
  • Looking after your nipples - if your nipples are sore and cracking from a poor latch, treating the nipples with a lanolin cream or even just breastmilk will help them to heal and reduce the chance of infection. 
  • Rest - getting plenty of bed rest (even with Baby) and staying well hydrated 
  • Pain Relief - using over-the-counter painkillers, such a paracetamol or ibuprofen (both safe while breastfeeding) to reduce any pain or fever 
  • Avoiding tight-fitting clothing, including bras, until your symptoms improve 
if you're breastfeeding, ALWAYS continue to feed your baby, making sure they are properly attached to your breast 

Breastfeeding your baby when you have mastitis, even if you have an infection, won't harm your baby and in fact, it will actually help improve your symptoms. 

Laura Doyle, Mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired in the chaos of it all. Writer and blogger at

Laura Doyle

Mum of four, Gentle parent living on coffee and trying always to stay positive and motivate in the midst of the madness.

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