What is mastitis?

Mastitis is usually the result of a blocked milk duct that hasn't cleared. Some of the milk banked up behind the can be forced into nearby breast tissue, causing the tissue to become inflamed. The inflammation is called mastitis. Infection may or may not be present. 

If you think you have mastitis, see your doctor.


What are the symptoms?

Early symptoms of mastitis can make you feel as if you are getting the flu. You may begin to get shivers and aches.


Some mothers who do not have any early signs of a blocked duct get mastitis 'out of the blue'. 


The breast will be sore like it is with a blocked duct, only worse. It is usually red and swollen, hot and painful. The skin may be shiny and there may be red streaks. You will feel ill. It is common for the ill feeling to come on very quickly.


What can I do?

Start treatment as soon as you feel a lump or sore spot in your breast.


Drain the breast often, but gently. 

This is not the time to wean. More than anything else, your breasts need to be kept as empty as possible. Your baby's sucking is the best way to do this. The milk is quite safe for your baby to drink. 


Feed more often than usual, starting each feed on the sore breast. Let your baby suck long enough on this side to make sure that it is being drained well. However, take care not to let the other breast become too full, as it may cause a similar problem in that breast.


Check that your baby is getting the milk - that is, the  let-down reflex is working soon after s/he begins to suck. When your let-down happens, you may notice tingling feelings in your breasts, a sudden feeling of fullness or milk leaking from your other breast. Your baby's sucking pattern will change and s/he will start to gulp or swallow more often. Make sure your baby is attached well and that you are relaxed and comfortable to help the let-down reflex work. 


There are ways of helping the breast to 'empty' or drain more easily:


Apply warmth and cold

Using COLD packs on the affected breast can help reduce swelling and relieve pain.


Use WARMTH only sparingly and just before a feed (for up to a few minutes) can help trigger your let-down to help clear the blockage and may relieve pain.


Some sources of warmth:



Getting rest when you have mastitis is vital. Stay in bed if you can, or at least put your feet up for most of the day. If you do go to bed, take your baby, supplies for changing nappies and your own food and drinks with you, so you don't have to keep getting up. If you have other children, it may be better to lie down in your living area.


Seek medical help

See a doctor after a few hours if you don't start to feel better or straight away if you feel very unwell. If you are prescribed antibiotics, make sure you finish the course. Some mothers may get a thrush  infection after a course of antibiotics, so if you have had thrush in the past, discuss this with your doctor. When mastitis is not treated promptly, a  breast abscess  may form, although this is uncommon.


A summary of things to do to help relieve mastitis



Early treatment will mean you get better faster, you will feel less ill and you will be at less risk of a breast abscess.




Further resources

See the  Royal Women's Hospital mastitis clinical guideline , the  Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine mastitis protocol  and page 43 of the  National Health and Medical Research Council's Infant Feeding Guidelines .


Telephone counselling is available on the 24-hour national ABA Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268. We also offer email counselling to our members. See the full range of benefits you get with ABA membership. 


The information in this website article has been taken from the ABA booklet  Breastfeeding: breast and nipple care  and does not replace advice from your health care providers.