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What is mastitis?

Mastitis (say: “mass-tie-tuss”) is an inflammation of the breast that is usually caused by an infection. It often happens while a woman is breastfeeding, especially during the first 6 weeks.


What are the symptoms of mastitis?

Women who have mastitis feel generally ill. Other symptoms include:

  • Breast pain
  • Swelling
  • A tender, red, wedge-shaped area on the breast
  • A burning sensation while breastfeeding
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

Mastitis usually affects one breast, not both breasts.


How can my doctor tell if I have mastitis?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine the affected breast. He or she will check for swelling, tenderness and a painful, wedge-shaped area on the breast that is a tell-tale sign of mastitis.


What can I do to prevent mastitis?

Below are some basic breastfeeding techniques to lower your risk of developing mastitis.

  • Your baby should latch onto the nipple with his or her mouth open wide.
  • Allow your baby to empty one breast before switching to the other breast.
  • Change your baby’s position from one feeding to the next to help empty all the areas of the breast.
  • If you need to stop a feeding, break the suction using your finger.
  • Don’t wear tight-fitting bras or breast pads that cause your nipples to stay moist after breastfeeding.
  • Air your nipples when possible.
  • Tell your doctor or lactation consultant if you have nipple pain during nursing.


How is mastitis treated?

Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. You should start to feel better a few days after starting the antibiotics. But make sure you take all the antibiotics your doctor prescribes to prevent antibiotic resistance.

Over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (one brand name: Advil) can help relieve pain. Warm showers can also help relieve the pain.

It is important to keep breastfeeding when you have mastitis. Your breast milk will not be bad for your baby, even if you have mastitis, although some infants may not like the taste. If you stop breastfeeding, germs can spread in the milk that is left in your breast, and your infection can get worse. If you cannot nurse your baby, you should pump your breasts to remove the milk.

Getting enough rest and drinking extra fluids can help you feel better faster. Talk to your doctor if your symptoms get worse.


Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • What is the likely cause of my mastitis?
  • Is my milk still safe for the baby?
  • Do I need antibiotics? How should I take them? Are they safe for the baby?
  • I’d like someone to observe my breastfeeding technique. Do you have a lactation consultant on staff?
  • Where can I find breastfeeding support?
  • Is there anything else I should do to help prevent mastitis?