What is mastitis?


by Samantha Ball |
Updated on

If your breasts are feeling sore and you feel as though you're coming down with something, you could have mastitis. It’s a common condition, that affects around one in ten breastfeeding mums, normally developing around three months after giving birth.

Mastitis is a blockage or build-up of milk in the breast, which can make the breast tissue painful and inflamed. While it can be uncomfortable, you can continue to breastfeed and it can be easily treated.

What causes mastitis?

There are two ways which can cause mastitis, the first one being a blocked milk duct. When milk builds up, it can cause inflammation which can result in infection. Another cause can be through a bacterial infection, which can cause mastitis if it manages to enter through a break in the skin.

You could also be more at risk of mastitis if:

You're breastfeeding in the first few weeks after birth: when your milk comes in and while you're trying to establish a supply, it can cause milk to build up and potentially cause blocked milk ducts.

Sore or cracked nipples: your breastfeeding technique might need adjusting so it's good to check that both your baby’s cheeks are touching your breast evenly during the feed. Incorrect positions or latch can cause sore or cracked nipples.

Wearing a tight bra: the right fitting nursing or maternity bra is not only important for comfort, but also it could help to prevent blocked ducts if it's too tight.

You've had mastitis before: if you've had mastitis in a previous breastfeeding journey or earlier on in your journey, you are more inclined to have it it again.

What are the symptoms of mastitis?

There are a few symptoms of mastitis, but it's always best to seek medical advice if you experience any of these symptoms:

Painful and swollen area: the area might also appear red. It's worth noting that this could be harder to notice on darker skin, so it's worth checking to see if the area feels hot or warm to touch.

Flu-like symptoms: you can experience a high temperature or chills, body aches and pains. It can often feel as though you're starting with flu.

Wedge-shaped lump

Nipple discharge: this could be white nipple discharge with streaks of blood, or a yellow discharge.

Pain when feeding

How is mastitis treated?

In most cases, if you have a blocked duct, symptoms can improve within the 24 to 48 hours. If symptoms continue after this, it's important to see your GP to find out what treatment you need and prevent your mastitis from getting worse.

Continuing to breastfeed more frequently and on the affected side can help to keep milk flowing and prevent further build up. You could even use a breast pump to alleviate some of the pressure.

It's also important to rest as much as possible and drink plenty of fluids. Sleep can help also help to speed heeling. You can also massage the affected area to try and stimulate milk flow and relieve pressure, if the mastitis is caused by a blocked duct.

How to prevent mastitis

While not guaranteed to completely prevent mastitis from starting, there are some things that you can do to help minimise your chance of getting it.

Make sure the latch is correct: if your baby is latched onto your breast properly, this can help to reduce the chances of mastitis.

Fully drain the milk: if not completely empty after a feed, make sure you use a breast pump. You can even make sure your baby has fully fed from one side, before switching to the other side.

Change your feeding positions: by changing feeding positions, you can make sure that your baby is emptying milk from all angles, and that no milk ducts are at risk of being blocked.

Remember to reach out to your GP directly if you're struggling with mastitis symptoms or to a breastfeeding specialist to support with your latch and breastfeeding journey.

Samantha Ball is a Product & Lifestyle Writer for Mother&Baby and freelanced for the website for two years before joining the team full time. She's a mum of two and loves browsing for the best products and cute outfits.

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