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Mastitis: A Real Pain In The Breast

You make the decision to breastfeed. You survive the red, raw nipple stage and have battled through the long days and nights of cluster feeding. It feels like you and baby have finally started to get this feeding thing down and may have even breastfed in public (go you!). And then – BANG – out of nowhere, your boob feels like it’s on fire.

Wondering what on earth is going on? Read on, friend.

What Is Mastitis?

Mastitis is an infection that occurs in the breast tissue. It can be quite painful and cause your breast to become red, swollen and inflamed. It usually only affects one breast, but if you’re really unlucky, it might affect both.

What Causes It?

In breastfeeding women, mastitis can be caused by a build-up of milk in the breast. This sometimes happen when baby isn’t latching or positioned quite right when feeding. This can mean that the breast is not fully emptied during a feed.

Mastitis can also be caused by bacteria entering the breast through a milk duct or cracked nipple.

What Are The Symptoms?

You may experience some or all of the below symptoms:

  • Swollen breast (usually only one breast).
  • Breast feels hot or painful to touch.
  • A wedge-shaped, red mark on the breast.
  • A burning sensation when baby feeds.
  • A small lump at the area where the duct is blocked.
  • Fatigue.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • Headaches.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • A discharge from the nipple.

What Can I Do To Manage The Symptoms?

One of the best things you can do to manage mastitis is to keep feeding frequently. Baby sucking on the breast (or pumping) is one of the most effective ways to clear a blocked duct and remove any build-up of milk.

Here are some other ways to reduce pain and swelling:

  • Drink lots of water and rest as much as possible.
  • Apply a heat pack to the painful breast every two or three hours.
  • Have a warm shower or bath.
  • Massage the area using a gentle circular motion starting at the outside of the affected area and working in toward the nipple.
  • A massager like this one may help clogged milk ducts. For a cheaper option, some babes have suggested putting the flat end of an electric toothbrush against a blocked duct to clear it.
  • Wear a supportive bra that isn’t tight and doesn’t compress the breast.

Is There Any Medication I Can Take?

Paracetamol or ibuprofen may help with the pain. Avoid taking aspirin though.

Speak to your GP as well as they may prescribe (breastfeeding-friendly) oral antibiotics.

How Long Does It Last?

If treated promptly, a mastitis infection should clear within 10 days. Symptoms can sometimes last up to three weeks. The symptoms can also go away without medical treatment but we always recommend speaking with your GP, midwife or health visitor .

Can I Get Mastitis More Than Once?

Yes, we’re afraid so. If you’re getting mastitis regularly though, speak to your health visitor or a lactation consultant as soon as possible it may be something to do with baby’s latch or position when feeding.

If you are experiencing any problems with breastfeeding, the sooner you get help, the quicker the problems will be solved. And trust us, it will make life so much easier. If you have a question or are not sure about something, don’t delay and contact your midwife, health visitor or a lactation specialist ASAP.

What Can I Do To Prevent It?

There are a few things you can do to prevent mastitis:

  • Get some air to your nipples after nursing. This will help speed up healing and prevent infection.
  • Change your breast pads regularly so the nipples remain dry.
  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting bras. Keep it comfortable with minimal support.
  • Alternate which side you start baby feeding from when breastfeeding. Put a hair tie around your wrist to help you remember which side you started on.
  • Try to ensure that baby feeds fully from one breast before switching to the other one. Emptying the breast fully will help prevent a build-up of milk and reduce the risk of infection.
  • Using different breastfeeding positions can also help make sure the breast is fully emptied.
  • Try to prevent baby from pulling on the nipple when stopping feeding (aka niplash). By placing your little finger in baby’s mouth, it will help break the suction and protect the nipple.

How Do I Know If Baby Is Positioned Correctly?

Positioning of baby during a feed and baby’s latch to the breast are both really important to help prevent mastitis.

Check out this video below for a helpful demonstration on how to make sure the position and attachment are spot on.


Birthbabe does not provide medical advice. The resources are intended for informational purposes only. The information is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the Birthbabe Site.


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