What is Mastitis? Signs, Symptoms and how to Treat It

Eilis Mackie, Lead for Lactation and Infant Feeding at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA UK, shares her expertise on spotting the signs of mastitis and how to deal with it.

Mastitis is a breast infection which is normally the result of a clogged milk duct or an infection carried from baby to mum via cracked or sore nipples. Unfortunately, many women will experience mastitis as it is a common condition which mainly affects women who are breastfeeding.

Mastitis Symptoms

Women suffering from mastitis will likely experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Breast pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth and redness around the breast
  • Cracked nipples
  • Flu-like symptoms

If untreated, mastitis can cause an abscess to develop, forming a mass of pus in your breast. These can be very painful and normally require surgical draining.

Read More: Common Breastfeeding Questions 

How to Treat Mastitis

Some women find that mastitis will go away on its own. However, if you notice you have symptoms of mastitis, and you don’t start feeling better within 24 hours or you feel the symptoms are getting worse, it is important to seek medical advice.

Mastitis is easily treatable with antibiotics prescribed by your GP and unlikely to cause further complications, however, it is important to know which signs and symptoms to look out for and when to seek treatment. Once you start to take antibiotics you should start to feel better within a few days, but make sure that the full course is taken. If you seek medical advice early on you shouldn’t face any further issues, so it is always best to speak to your GP or a lactation specialist early on.

To help the discomfort you may be experiencing in the meantime, you can take over-the-counter pain relief medication such as ibuprofen and paracetamol.

Some women find that warm baths or showers will also help reduce the pain, it’s also crucial to make sure you rest as much as you can and drink plenty of fluids to help speed up recovery.

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Should I still breastfeed with mastitis?

Although it can sometimes be painful, it is advised that women do continue breastfeeding when they have mastitis, unless told otherwise by their doctor.  Your breast milk may contain traces of antibiotic; however, it is not bad for your baby and it is completely safe to continue nursing. In fact, if you stop breastfeeding the existing bacteria could further spread in the milk that is left in your breast, potentially prolonging the infection.

Occasionally, baby may not nurse well from an infected breast as the milk can taste salty from the infection. If your baby is refusing or fussing, offer the uninfected breast and express the infected breast.

Eilis Mackie is Lead for Lactation and Infant Feeding at London’s The Portland Hospital. 

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