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    Home ›› Mastitis Symptoms, Causes, and Support 

    Home ›› Mastitis Symptoms, Causes, and Support 

    Mastitis: Breastfeeding Symptoms, Causes, and Prevention


    5 min. read


    While breastfeeding is one of the most natural things a woman can do, it isn’t always simple. Along with the special moments, there are some common breastfeeding issues that new breastfeeding mothers can encounter. One of these is mastitis, a condition which causes breast tissue to become sore or inflamed.

    A large cohort study revealed that slightly fewer than 10% of American women experience mastitis in the three months after giving birth. 4 It mostly occurs in breastfeeding women, however non-breastfeeding women can develop a type called periductal mastitis. This is caused by a bacterial infection in the milk ducts due to a cracked or sore nipple, or even a nipple piercing.

    Lactation Mastitis is a concern as it can make breastfeeding painful, and can hinder the bonding process or even compromise milk supply. It should be dealt with promptly to help mother and baby feel healthy and comfortable, and protect mother’s milk supply.

    So ‘how do you get mastitis?’, ‘what are the mastitis symptoms?’, and ‘can you breastfeed with mastitis?’: here we’ll answer all the most commonly asked questions about mastitis and how to deal with it. For further information, seek the advice of a healthcare professional.

    Signs of mastitis


    What does mastitis feel like? As well as pain and discomfort, mastitis symptoms can also include tiredness and feeling run down. The early signs of mastitis include: 1


    • Fever and/or flu-like symptoms
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Yellowish nipple discharge
    • Breasts that are warm or hot to touch
    • Breasts that appear pink or red in color


    These mastitis symptoms are similar to engorged breast symptoms, but there is a key difference between the two. Mastitis differs from engorgement in that it usually only affects one part of the breast, rather than the entire two breasts.

    What causes mastitis?


    While mastitis can occur at any time for a new mother, it is most common within the first two to three weeks after delivery. A common cause of this condition is lengthy gaps between feeding sessions, such as when the baby starts sleeping through the night.


    Other causes of mastitis are as follows: 2


    • Improper breastfeeding latch
    • Incomplete draining of milk from the breasts, for example due to a clogged milk duct
    • Engorged breasts that are left unaddressed
    • Regular pressure on one part of the breast
    • Trauma to the breast caused by injury or impact


    In short, mastitis is usually caused by milk staying still in the breast for too long, known as milk stasis. It is the promotion of bacterial growth due to milk stasis that leads to the condition and symptoms of pain and fever.  It is, therefore, important to ensure that milk is properly removed from breasts to avoid issues such as mastitis and engorgement.

    How to prevent mastitis

    The good news is that there are many ways to help prevent mastitis. Below are a few tips and tricks on how to avoid mastitis: 3


    • Take care of breasts to prevent nipple irritation. Taking care of the breasts by massaging the area and keeping the nipples dry by using soft breast pads can help prevent mastitis. Learn more about taking care of the breasts.


    • Breastfeed frequently. Breastfeeding regularly and on time to fully empty the breasts is important. Even if the baby is sleeping, parents should wake him or her up if it is nursing time. Mothers should ensure breasts are emptied of milk with a breast pump if they are not able to be with their baby during feeding time. Find an easy-to-use breast pump, such as this double electric breast pump. It helps reduce expression time while a cushion gently stimulates the milk flow.


    • Ensure that baby latches properly. Many breastfeeding complications are avoided when the baby latches properly. Discover the different breastfeeding positions that can encourage a proper latch and help prevent mastitis and other uncomfortable problems from occurring.


    • Wean from breastfeeding gradually. To minimize the chances of complications, dry up the milk supply gradually by cutting down on breastfeeding sessions one by one.

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    Treatment for mastitis


    One of the most common questions for mothers breastfeeding with mastitis is ‘can I still breastfeed?’ The answer is yes. In fact, if mothers have mastitis, breastfeeding can actually help to clear up the infection without causing harm or negative side effects. 3,4,5


    A healthcare professional should be contacted if symptoms of mastitis don’t start feeling better after 24 hours or if the symptoms worsen. Doctors will usually prescribe antibiotics, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to help relieve mastitis, ensuring that any medication prescribed is breastfeeding safe.  

    Enjoy the journey


    Mastitis can feel uncomfortable, but there’s no need to panic or be discouraged. It is a common issue that many new mothers experience while first learning to breastfeed. Mothers can help minimize the chances of mastitis by following the advice in this article, but they shouldn’t hesitate to seek professional advice if they are concerned.

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    1 womenshealth.gov - Common breastfeeding challenges

    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Management of breast conditions and other breastfeeding difficulties

    3 World Health Organization - Mastitis Causes and Managemen - PDF

    4 U.S. National Library of Medicine A descriptive study of mastitis in Australian breastfeeding women: incidence and determinants

    5 American Family Physician - Management of Mastitis in Breastfeeding Women

    6 Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan - Mastitis While Breastfeeding

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