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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Mastitis is inflammation of the tissues of the breast, causing it to become hot, painful, and swollen. It commonly occurs in women who are breastfeeding, but non-lactating women and men can also get it.

In breastfeeding women, it can occur when the milk builds up or from a blockage in the milk ducts. If you have sore or cracked nipples, it makes it easier for bacteria to enter the milk ducts. Often sore/cracked nipples can be caused by incorrect feeding technique and latching position or wearing tight-fitting clothing.

Other people at risk of this condition include smokers and those with a weakened immune system. Irritation or damage to the skin around the nipples, through plucking the hairs or nipple piercings, as well as certain skin conditions like eczema or having breast implants, can increase your risk of having mastitis.

What are the symptoms?

Mastitis causes the breast to become hot, painful, and swollen. There may be an area of the breast that is hardened or thickened, and the skin is often very red, and the nipple may discharge. People can feel quite unwell with mastitis, a general flu-like illness can occur, as well as fevers (> 100 degrees).

What can I do to help?

Even though it may hurt to breastfeed, it is advised to continue breastfeeding to help unblock the milk ducts and provide nutrition to your baby. You should breastfeed regularly from both breasts to avoid engorgement, which will make your breasts feel worse. Ensure you have the correct latch and massage your breasts before feeding to help relieve your symptoms. You may require help from a lactation consultant if you find any of this difficult.

Simple things you can do at home include ensuring that you are wearing loose-fitting clothing and bras. Applying cool ice packs or cold cabbage leaves can also help. You should take simple painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve the pain and inflammation.

What will my doctor do?

It is advised to see your doctor if you have symptoms of mastitis, as your doctor will need to prescribe antibiotics in order to clear the infection, usually for 10 days. You should inform your doctor if you are breastfeeding so that they can prescribe one that is safe to take.

What are the complications?

It is important that you complete your course of antibiotics, even when you are starting to feel better. This is because there is a risk that this infection can come back. There is then a high risk of an abscess developing (a collection of pus) in your breast, and that may require surgical drainage.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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