Mother and Baby

New Mum Health A-Z: Mastitis 

If you're a breastfeeding mum and wondering if mastitis is the reason why you're feeling unwell, check out our overview of the symptoms and how you can start feeling better again

Sore breasts and the feeling you're coming down with something? You could have mastitis. It’s a common condition, affecting around one in 10 breastfeeding mums, normally developing around three months after giving birth.

But it needn’t stop you breastfeeding – and can easily be treated.

What is it?

Mastitis is a blockage or build-up of milk in the breast, which makes the breast tissue painful and inflamed.

What causes it?

Your breastfeeding technique might need adjusting so check that both your baby’s cheeks are touching your breast evenly during the feed, so that he can drain both the upper and lower half of the breast.

‘Often mums develop mastitis in the upper half of the breast because baby has rolled away from the breast and his top cheek isn’t anywhere near the breast,’ says breastfeeding expert Geraldine Miskin.

To get a good latch make sure your whole nipple and most or all of your areola (the dark-skinned area around it) is in his mouth.

What are the symptoms? 

It usually affects just one breast making it painful and swollen as well as looking red.

Other common symptoms of mastitis include a high temperature or chills

You may feel burning pains, especially when you're feeding.

Other common symptoms of mastitis include a high temperature or chills and aches and pains, which can sometimes make you feel like you’re coming down with the flu.

How is it treated?

See your GP to find out what treatment you need and prevent it getting worse.

Resting up and drinking plenty of fluids help to ease mastitis, plus applying cold compresses will soothe sore and inflamed nipples, so try keeping a cloth in the freezer instead of the fridge to make sure it stays cold for longer. And some mums might find anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen helpful to reduce swelling.  

Although it might seem like the last thing you want to do, regular breastfeeding is an important part of your recovery.

‘It’s vital that you continue to breastfeed in order to get rid of the blockage,’ says Geraldine. Blocked breast milk can lead to infection or cause painful abscesses in the breast.

When you develop mastitis, your milk can become more salty and some babies might not feed as well as they did before, which might cause a drop in your milk supply. Expressing your milk every three hours will help counterbalance the drop and ensure you don’t oversupply.

‘Get baby back onto the breast as soon as possible, so he can regulate your supply again and you don’t become dependent on expressing,’ says Geraldine.


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