What is lactational mastitis?
Lactational mastitis is an infection of the breast associated with pain, redness, fever, myalgias, and malaise that occurs in the setting of breastfeeding. It is most common during the first six weeks postpartum.
How common is lactational mastitis?
Lactational mastitis can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of lactational mastitis?
The common symptoms of lactational mastitis are:
- Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
- Generally feeling ill (malaise)
- Breast swelling
- Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
- Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
- Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or greater
Although mastitis usually occurs in the first several weeks of breast-feeding, it can happen anytime during breast-feeding. Lactation mastitis tends to affect only one breast.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes lactational mastitis?
Breast-feeding is a learned skill, and poor technique can lead to milk being trapped in the breast, a main cause of mastitis. Other causes include:
- A blocked milk duct. If a breast doesn’t completely empty at feedings, one of your milk ducts can become clogged, causing milk to back up, which leads to breast infection.
- Bacteria entering your breast. Bacteria from your skin’s surface and baby’s mouth can enter the milk ducts through a break or crack in the skin of your nipple or through a milk duct opening. Stagnant milk in a breast that isn’t emptied enough provides a breeding ground for the bacteria. The antibacterial properties of your milk help protect your baby from the infection.
What increases my risk for lactational mastitis?
There are many risk factors for lactational mastitis, such as:
- Breast-feeding during the first few weeks after childbirth
- Sore or cracked nipples, although mastitis can develop without broken skin
- Using only one position to breast-feed, which may not fully drain your breast
- Wearing a tightfitting bra or putting pressure on your breast from using a seatbelt or carrying a heavy bag, which may restrict milk flow
- Becoming overly tired or stressed
- Previous bout of mastitis while breast-feeding
- Poor nutrition
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is lactational mastitis diagnosed?
Your doctor diagnoses mastitis based on a physical exam, taking into account signs and symptoms such as fever, chills and breast pain. Another clear sign is a wedge-shaped area of redness on the breast that points toward the nipple and is tender to the touch.
Your doctor will make sure you don’t have a breast abscess — a complication that can occur when mastitis isn’t treated promptly. A culture of your breast milk might help guide your doctor in determining the best antibiotic for you, especially if your infection is severe.
A rare form of breast cancer — inflammatory breast cancer — also can cause redness and swelling that could initially be confused with mastitis. Your doctor may recommend a diagnostic mammogram. If your signs and symptoms persist even after you complete a course of antibiotics, you may need a biopsy to make sure you don’t have breast cancer.
How is lactational mastitis treated?
Mastitis treatment usually involves:
- Treating mastitis usually requires a 10- to 14-day course of antibiotics. You may feel well again 24 to 48 hours after starting antibiotics, but it’s important to take all the pills to minimize your chance of recurrence.
- Pain relievers. Your doctor may recommend a mild pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others).
- Adjustments to your breast-feeding technique. Make sure that you fully empty your breasts during breast-feeding and that your infant latches on correctly. Your doctor may review your breast-feeding technique with you or may refer you to a lactation consultant for help and ongoing support.
- Self-care. Rest, continue breast-feeding and drink extra fluids to help your body fight the breast infection.
If your mastitis doesn’t clear up after taking antibiotics, it is important to follow up with your doctor so he or she can decide if you need further testing.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage lactational mastitis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with lactational mastitis:
- Continue to breast-feed as often and as long as your baby is hungry
- Rest as much as possible, preferably in bed with your baby, which will encourage frequent feedings
- Avoid prolonged overfilling of your breast with milk (engorgement) before breast-feeding
- Vary your breast-feeding positions
- Drink plenty of fluids
- If you have trouble emptying a portion of your breast, apply warm compresses to the breast or take a warm shower before breast-feeding or pumping milk
- Wear a supportive bra
If you have mastitis, it’s safe to continue breast-feeding and it helps clear the infection. If breast-feeding on the infected breast is too painful or your infant refuses to nurse on that breast, try pumping or hand-expressing milk.
To get your breast-feeding relationship with your infant off to its best start — and to avoid complications like mastitis — consider meeting with a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant can give you tips and provide invaluable advice for proper breast-feeding techniques. Minimize your chances of getting mastitis by following these tips:
- Fully drain the milk from your breasts while breast-feeding.
- Allow your baby to completely empty one breast before switching to the other breast during feeding.
- Change the position you use to breast-feed from one feeding to the next.
- Make sure your baby latches on properly during feedings.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
- http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mastitis/basics/definition/con-20026633. Accessed 15 Jan 2017
- Mastitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/163876.php. Accessed 15 Jan 2017
- Lactational mastitis. http://www.uptodate.com/contents/lactational-mastitis. Accessed 15 Jan 2017
Review Date: June 22, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019