Mastitis means “inflammation of the breast” caused commonly by milk stasis or infection. If it develops, it most commonly occurs in the first following weeks after delivery. Early symptoms of mastitis include flu-like symptoms with or without the presence of a noticeable blocked duct or breast pain. Commonly though, the breast may appear red, swollen and painful to the touch on the affected side.
Mastitis is most often caused by untreated blocked ducts leading to the build-up of milk being forced into the breast tissue. If still left untreated it can become infective and often requires hospitalization and antibiotic treatment.
What can you do?
Start treatment as soon as you notice a painful lump on your breast.
Drain the breast gently but often. The aim is to keep the breast as empty as possible.
This is NOT the time to wean or suppress your milk supply. Doing so may cause the untreated mastitis to form a breast abscess which may require surgical drainage to resolve.
- Feed more often than usual, particularly the affected side!
- The milk may have a salty taste but is safe for your baby to drink. If they refuse due to taste then use an electric breast pump to drain the breast instead
- Change positions as needed as this may assist in draining the breast
- Use warm water and compresses sparingly and before feeds to try clear blockages and trigger milk let-down
- Apply cold compresses and/or cold cabbage leaves to help relieve inflammation after feeding or expressing
- Rest as much as you can and drink plenty of fluids
When to see medical attention:
Seek urgent medical advice if your symptoms are not improving and/or if you have a fever of 38 degrees or higher and feeling unwell.
Australian Breastfeeding Association for Health Professionals. 2018. Blocked Ducts and Mastitis - Australian Breastfeeding Association for Health Professionals. [online] Available at: <https://abaprofessional.asn.au/download/blocked-ducts-and-mastitis/> [Accessed 19 February 2021].
Cooper, B. and Kowalsky, D., 2015. Physical Therapy Intervention for Treatment of Blocked Milk Ducts in Lactating Women. Journal of Women's Health Physical Therapy, 39(3), pp.115-126.
Fetherston, C., 1998. Risk Factors for Lactation Mastitis. Journal of Human Lactation, 14(2), pp.101-109.
Kinlay, J., O'Connell, D. and Kinlay, S., 2001. Risk factors for mastitis in breastfeeding women: results of a prospective cohort study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 25(2), pp.115-120.
Medela. 2014. Managing Blocked Milk Ducts and Treating Mastitis. [online] Available at: <https://www.medela.us/breastfeeding/articles/managing-blocked-milk-ducts-and-treating-mastitis> [Accessed 19 February 2021].
Witt, A., Bolman, M., Kredit, S. and Vanic, A., 2015. Therapeutic Breast Massage in Lactation for the Management of Engorgement, Plugged Ducts, and Mastitis. Journal of Human Lactation, 32(1), pp.123-131.