What is Mastitis? Treatments & Symptoms

What is Mastitis? Treatments & Symptoms

Mastitis is no fun. If you’re after mastitis symptoms, mastitis treatments, and the difference between mastitis vs clogged milk duct, read on.
If your breasts are swollen, sore, and red, mastitis might be the culprit.

And yes, mastitis 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.)

Mastitis is treatable and, if you’re breastfeeding or pumping, it shouldn’t get in the way.

Let’s take a look into what causes mastitis, what the symptoms are, and how to ease your pain.

In this article: 📝

  • What is mastitis?
  • What is the main cause of mastitis?
  • How do I know if I’m getting mastitis?
  • How do I get rid of mastitis?
  • How can I avoid getting 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.

Lactational mastitis without infection

Lactational mastitis 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 clogged ducts.

Lactational mastitis with infection

In some cases, bacteria can arrive on the scene and cause a mastitis 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.

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

Periductal mastitis

Periductal mastitis is when the ducts under your nipple are inflamed and thicken ‒ this type of mastitis is more common in menopausal and postmenopausal people.

Idiopathic granulomatous mastitis

Idiopathic granulomatous mastitis is a bit rarer and can be something that happens more than once.

Generally, idiopathic granulomatous mastitis can happen to perimenopausal people who have lactated before.

Mastitis vs clogged duct

So what’s the difference between a clogged milk duct vs mastitis?

Well, a clogged duct is just that ‒ a blockage in the flow of breastmilk in your breast, which can be at the nipple or deeper within your breast.

Mastitis is an infection of the breast, and can be caused by a clogged milk duct, but not exclusively.

You may feel sick with mastitis, but you likely won’t with a clogged milk duct.

Mastitis also tends to look more inflamed and redder than a clogged duct.

Can you get mastitis during pregnancy?

As we mentioned before, anyone can get mastitis ‒ any gender, regardless of whether they’re lactating or not.

So yes, mastitis while pregnant has been known to happen.

If you have mastitis in pregnancy, it could be caused by a blockage while your breastmilk is coming in or simply from an infection in your breast.

What is the main cause of mastitis?

Basically, mastitis happens when your breast tissue is inflamed.

Sometimes it’s accompanied by infection, other times it’s not, and sometimes it can happen when you’re lactating, other times it’s not.

What causes mastitis (not breastfeeding)?

If you have mastitis while not breastfeeding, then it’s known as non-lactational mastitis.

As for what causes non-lactational mastitis, it’s usually due to either some damage to your nipple (like a cut, piercing, or cracks caused by dryness).

Is mastitis serious?

We don’t want to worry you, but yes, mastitis can be serious.

It’s very rare, but there have been some severe cases of mastitis causing hospitalization or even death.

It’s worth remembering that mastitis is an infection, and infections can spread if not treated properly, or exacerbated.

If you notice your breast(s) with mastitis feeling hot or sore to the touch, or you have a fever, chills, or sickness, visit your doctor immediately.

Should I go to ER for mastitis?

More often than not, no, you won’t have to go to the ER for mastitis.

However, if you have a persistent fever, nausea and vomiting, or pus coming out of your breast or nipple, then you should get to the hospital as soon as possible, because it could mean that the infection is more serious.

How long does it take to get mastitis?

Well, it’s hard to put a specific timeframe on how long it takes to get mastitis, as there are different causes.

But if you’re lactating, most people tend to get mastitis within the first 2-12 weeks of breastfeeding.

But saying that, it can happen at any time of lactation (or even if you’re not lactating).

How do I know if I’m getting mastitis?

Breastfeeding can leave you feeling pretty tender, especially when you’re starting out.

So how do you know if you are experiencing mastitis symptoms or just run-of-the-mill breastfeeding growing pains?

What are the early signs of mastitis?

While the early mastitis symptoms 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.

How should you sleep with mastitis?

Rest is fundamental if you have mastitis ‒ after all, your body is fighting an infection, so it needs all the energy it can get!

There is no single ‘right’ way to sleep when you have mastitis ‒ rest in a way that’s comfortable for you.

But some of our mamas on Peanut say sleeping on their back with some pillows propping them up is most comfortable, as it takes pressure away from the affected breast.

Should you wear a bra with mastitis?

It’s totally up to you whether you wear a bra with mastitis or not.

Some mamas of Peanut swear by a supportive, not-too-tight bra to help ease their mastitis symptoms, but others avoid bras entirely if they have mastitis.

The general consensus is that bras with underwires or push-up bras can be more uncomfortable with mastitis, so try to avoid them where you can.

Can mastitis cause engorgement?

Sometimes, yes, mastitis can cause your breasts to look bigger or feel more firm ‒ it’s gross, but basically, the mastitis infection causes pus to gather in your breast, which can cause them to engorge.

Can mastitis make baby sick?

No, mastitis breastmilk won’t make your baby sick.

While your mastitis breastmilk may taste a little different to baby, it won’t cause them any harm.

Can mastitis dry up milk supply?

You may notice that your mastitis causes your breastmilk to slow down a little, due to the infection.

But it’s not likely to dry up completely, and should return to normal once the infection goes away.

Should you feed with mastitis?

Yes, you should continue to feed baby even if you have mastitis, whether you’re pumping or nursing.

Feeding with mastitis can ease some of your symptoms, and the milk won’t affect your baby.

Do you get a headache with mastitis?

Sometimes, yes, the mastitis infection can cause a few flu-like symptoms, including headaches.

If you start to feel feverish, though, or if your mastitis symptoms continue for more than 24 hours, it’s best to see your doctor as soon as you can.

Can I have mastitis without a fever?

Yes, some people with mastitis don’t get a fever at all ‒ just the pain from the infection in their breast.

How do I get rid of mastitis?

Now onto mastitis treatments!

While it can be best to visit a doctor to combat the mastitis infection, there are some home remedies for mastitis that can help ease your pain.

Will mastitis go away on its own?

If you think you have mastitis, it’s worth checking in with your healthcare provider first.

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, like dicloxacillin, for mastitis, 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 baby.)

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 long does mastitis usually last?

Ugh. How long does mastitis last?

Well, it can vary from person to person ‒ some mamas on Peanut say their mastitis symptoms went away in a matter of days, but others have had to live with mastitis for three weeks!

The best thing to do if you think you have mastitis is to speak with your doctor about your next best steps.

How long is breast sore after mastitis?

It depends ‒ if you have a sore breast caused by mastitis, the pain could go away in 4-7 days, or it could hang around for a few weeks.

Can mastitis be treated without antibiotics?

If you choose to go down the route of taking antibiotics (like dicloxacillin) for mastitis, that can help the infection clear up in about a week.

But if you’re not keen on taking medication, or you want to try a mastitis treatment at home, there are some things that might help.

How can I treat mastitis at home?

When it comes to how to treat mastitis at home, you don’t have to stop breastfeeding or pumping.

In fact, getting that milk out is one of the most effective mastitis treatments at home.

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.

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.

Then, and listen carefully to this one: look after yourself.

Get that fluid intake up. Rest when you need to. Cancel plans. And maintain proper mastitis hygiene ‒ keep those breasts clean after each feed.

Mastitis can be a lot to go through.

You’re allowed to collapse a little, mama.

We know how strong you are.

How do you massage mastitis?

A little massage can go a long way when you have mastitis.

A great breast massage for mastitis is to first soak your affected breast in warm water (or apply a warm compress), then apply gentle pressure to any of the more solid areas during feeding or pumping.

It’s worth noting that breast massage for mastitis won’t actually cure your mastitis infection, but it can ease up any milk duct blockages.

Is heat or cold better for mastitis?

Both, actually!

You can experiment with applying a mastitis warm compress before feeding and a cold compress afterward.

Not only can this be really soothing, but it can also encourage your milk to flow.

Does drinking water help mastitis?

Yes! Keep hydrated if you have mastitis, as that can help keep your milk supply flowing, which can help clear any blockages and ease your mastitis symptoms.

Does Epsom salt help mastitis?

Sometimes, yes, a warm Epsom salt bath can help with mastitis symptoms.

You can also try hand-pumping while your breast is soaking in Epsom salts to try to break up any clogs.

Cabbage leaves for mastitis

It sounds weird, but cabbage for mastitis might actually help!

Some mamas on Peanut say it helps reduce swelling caused by mastitis.

Simply get your hands on a fresh cabbage, wash it thoroughly, dry it, and pluck a leaf to cover your breast.

Then sit with the cabbage leaf on your breast for 10-20 minutes and repeat as needed.

But cabbage leaves for mastitis don’t actually treat the infection, they can only help with some mastitis symptoms.

For mastitis treatment, it’s best to speak with your doctor.

Will pumping help mastitis?

Yes, continuing to breastfeed or pump can help with mastitis symptoms and help clear any milk duct blockages.

Is pumping or nursing better for mastitis?

Whichever is best for you ‒ it’s recommended to either pump or breastfeed while you have mastitis, but which you choose depends on which you prefer.

Does sunflower lecithin work for mastitis?

Not really, no. Taking sunflower lecithin while breastfeeding is more of a preventative measure for clogged ducts, which can, in some cases, lead to mastitis.

What happens 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 mastitis 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.

Can mastitis turn into sepsis?

Yes, if left untreated, there have been rare occasions where mastitis causes an abscess which can lead to sepsis.

To avoid this, it’s best to speak with your doctor if you think you have mastitis.

When should I go to hospital with mastitis?

If you think you have mastitis, when to go to hospital?

Well, in the first instance, simply call your doctor or make an appointment if you think you have mastitis or any early mastitis symptoms.

But if you think you may have an abscess from mastitis or you have any feverish or flu-like mastitis symptoms, it’s a good idea to see your doctor more urgently.

Should I go to the ER if I think I have mastitis?

If you have any severe mastitis symptoms like a constant high fever, vomiting that means you can’t take antibiotics, or any pus coming out of your breast, head over to the hospital immediately, just in case.

How can I avoid getting mastitis?

If you’re looking for a guide on how to prevent mastitis, we’re sorry to say that 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 mastitis 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, which can lead to mastitis. 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.
  • 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.
  • Clean your nipples after breastfeeding. Dipping them in warm water or wiping them with a damp, clean cloth is a good idea.

How to dry up milk supply without getting mastitis

So if you want to know how to stop pumping without getting mastitis, here are a few tips ‒ although, as we said earlier, there’s nothing you can do to prevent mastitis, you can reduce your chances:

  • Give yourself time. It can take a while to dry up your milk supply, and trying to stop before your body ‘wants’ to can result in mastitis.
  • Try taking off one feed at a time. In baby’s feeding schedule, remove one feeding session at a time ‒ try going without it for a week or two, then remove another.
  • Don’t go cold turkey. This can be uncomfortable for both you and baby. When starting a new schedule, whatever it is, gradual is key.

Above all, try to relax, mama. With the right mastitis treatment, you’ll feel better again in no time!

Also, remember that your Peanut community is there for you.

The breastfeeding journey can be quite isolating.

Let’s normalize the conversation.

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