Mastitis: All You Need to Know

Team Peanut5 months ago6 min read

If your breasts are swollen, sore, and red, mastitis might be the culprit. And yes, it can seriously hurt and be a major cause of discomfort. Urgh. As if breastfeeding wasn’t hard enough.


Of course, all of this can come along with a fair degree of stress and alarm. But try not to worry, mama. (We know, not a great thing to say to someone who’s worried, but bear with us.) It’s treatable and, if you’re breastfeeding, it shouldn’t get in the way.

Let’s take a look into what causes mastitis, what the symptoms are, and how you can treat it.

In this article: 📝

  • What is mastitis?
  • Mastitis symptoms
  • Mastitis Treatment
  • How to prevent mastitis

What is mastitis?

First, mastitis can happen to anyone of any gender. Although it’s more common in those who are lactating (lactation mastitis, as it’s called in this case), non-lactating women and even men can get mastitis as well.

So why does it happen? As it turns out, not all cases of mastitis are created equal. Here’s the deal:

What causes mastitis?

Basically, mastitis happens when your breast tissue is inflamed. Sometimes it’s accompanied by infection, sometimes it’s not:

  • Mastitis without infection. This usually has to do with milk flow so, yes, it’s more common when you’re breastfeeding or pumping. Essentially, it results from milk build-up in the breast tissue (AKA milk stasis). This might be because something is blocking the milk from flowing, often referred to as plugged/blocked/clogged ducts.

  • Mastitis with infection. In some cases, bacteria can arrive on the scene and cause infection. Bacteria on us are generally harmless. Bacteria in us can be more cause for concern. In some cases, mastitis with infection can happen if there’s a small break in the skin somewhere near the nipple that allows bacteria to get in. In others, it can happen because clogged milk ducts create a pretty stellar environment for bacteria to thrive in.

Either way, you will get through this—and one day write it off to one of the challenges of early mamahood.

So what are the signs of mastitis and how can you treat it if you suspect that you have it?

Mastitis symptoms

[Breastfeeding]( can leave you feeling pretty tender, especially when you’re starting out. So how do you know if you are experiencing the symptoms of mastitis or just run-of-the-mill breastfeeding growing pains?

While the early symptoms of mastitis may vary from person to person, here’s some of what you might expect:

  • Redness and swelling on your breast
  • Flu-like symptoms (aches and pains, fever, feeling run down)
  • A hard lump on your breast that can be sensitive to the touch
  • Your breast feels warm
  • Breastfeeding may sting
  • Feeling totally out of it

Mastitis Treatment

Does mastitis go away on its own?

If you suspect you have mastitis, it’s worth checking in with your healthcare provider. Your doctor will have a look to see whether you have an infection and work out how to treat it from there.

They may offer you antibiotics if there is a bacterial infection at work.

If things are really painful and swollen, your doctor may help you out with anti-inflammatories or pain killers. (Just check in with them about dosages and what exactly is safe for you.)

And then, they’ll likely take you through what you can do at home to help you feel better and navigate the next steps of your breastfeeding journey.

How can I treat mastitis at home?

First things first, you don’t have to stop breastfeeding or pumping. In fact, getting that milk out is going to be one of your best friends on your healing journey.

And we know this may sound a little weird, but it is a good idea to offer the sore breast to your baby first. Why? It’s the best way to get those ducts unplugged.

You might also want to experiment with applying a warm compress before feeding and a cold compress afterward. This can not only be really soothing but also invite your milk to flow. A little massage can go a long way.

If breastfeeding is feeling too much, talk to your doctor about options. You may have to soldier on for a little while longer. Weaning too quickly can lead to a breast abscess. (More on this in a moment.)

Then, and listen carefully to this one: look after yourself. Get that fluid intake up. Rest when you need to. Cancel plans. Mastitis can be a lot to go through. You’re allowed to collapse a little, mama. We know how strong you are.

What can happen if mastitis is left untreated?

If mastitis isn’t treated, there’s a chance a breast abscess can result. An abscess is a ball of pus (delightful, we know) that builds up in your breast tissue.

This can really hurt. But more importantly, if left untreated, can cause the infection to travel to other parts of your body—with some scary consequences, like blood sepsis.

Okay, okay, that’s all very stressful. The bottom line is, don’t ignore mastitis. Get the help you need. It’s totally treatable.

How to prevent mastitis

There’s no surefire way to prevent mastitis—it’s just one of those things that can happen.

But there are certain things you can do to lessen the chances of it occurring in the future:

  • Get that milk out. The bottom line here? Frequent feeds. Whether you’re pumping, breastfeeding, or hand expressing, getting that milk flowing as often as possible will help prevent clogs.
  • Get that little latch on. Mastering your latch technique can help you prevent cracks and sores. This can be quite a process that requires a lot of trial and error. Try a few different positions to see what works best for you. If you’re struggling, reach out to your healthcare provider for help. Also, remember that your Peanut community is there for you. The breastfeeding journey can be quite isolating. Let’s normalize the conversation.
  • Massage, massage, massage. What a nice prescription this is! Massaging your breasts before and after feeding can stimulate milk flow and prevent build-up.
  • Wean slowly. If you pull the plug on breastfeeding too quickly, your breasts may be overfull (engorged), and mastitis can result.
  • Wash your hands before breastfeeding. Keeping things clean can help avoid infection.

Breathe, Mama. With the right treatment, you’ll feel better again in no time!