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Mastitis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Katlyn Joy |30, September 2011


Mastitis is one of the more common complications that may occur in breastfeeding mothers. This infection of the breast tissue occurs occurs almost exclusively in breastfeeding mothers and typically in the first few months of nursing a newborn.


  • Tenderness in the breast
  • Warm to the touch
  • Swollen breasts
  • Pain or burning during nursing sessions
  • Redness in the breast. Maybe in a wedge shaped pattern
  • Achiness and general malaise similar to a flu
  • Fever over 101 degrees (F)
  • Worsening symptoms


Mastitis is caused by bacteria entering the breast tissue through cracks or broken skin on the surface of the breast. The bacteria may also come from the baby's mouth while nursing. The bacteria multiplies and creates infection within the breast tissue.

Many times allowing the breasts to become engorged or overly filled with milk can lead to mastitis. Engorgement damages the breast tissue and allows cracks or breaks in the skin to occur which in turn allows for bacteria to enter and cause the infection.


- Vary the position of breastfeeding. Use the side lying position, sitting and football hold for instance.

- Breastfeed on both sides at each feeding session.

- Avoid tight fitting bras.

- Don't delay or miss feedings. If baby is unavailable, then pump or even hand express milk to avoid engorgement.

- Ensure that baby latches on correctly at each feeding.

- Never wean cold turkey but rather gradually reduce the number of nursing sessions each day.

- Avoid compressing breasts by lying on your stomach.

- Feed baby whenever your breasts begin to feel heavy.

- Never cut baby off in the midst of a nursing session. Allow baby to nurse til satiated.

- Take care of yourself by getting enough rest and eating properly. Don't allow yourself to become dehydrated or run-down.

Home Treatment of Mastitis

Often times a mother can treat mastitis at home without a doctor's supervision.

- Rest as if you are sick, because you are feeling sick and if you allow yourself to wear down you'll become sicker.

- Use hot and cold compresses on your breasts. Alternate every twenty minutes or so. Use warm ones prior to feeding sessions and cold ones following breastfeeding. Use moist heat rather than dry heat. For heat try a warm shower, or a warm wet towel. For the cold compress try a bag of frozen peas, or bags of crushed ice wrapped in a clean dishtowel.

- While in a warm shower, gently massage your breast in a circular fashion using the pads of your fingers, careful not to scratch your breasts with your nails.

- Make certain to nurse frequently on the affected side and empty that breast.

- If nursing is painful, then start on the unaffected side and once the let down has occurred and milk is flowing switch to the infected side.

- Take Tylenol or Ibuprofen according to package directions. This will help reduce pain and inflammation.

- Drink plenty of water and healthy drinks.

- Go braless as much as possible and when wearing one, make sure it doesn't constrict at all.

- Do not quit nursing. Weaning at this stage of infection can lead to a more serious situation such as an abscess of the breast tissue.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Not all cases of mastitis require medical attention or antibiotics. If you have done all the home treatments and the infection is continuing or worsening it is time to see your doctor.

Signs Antibiotics are Unnecessary

  • This is your first time with the infection.
  • You don't feel unwell overall.
  • You are not getting increasingly ill.
  • Your fever is stable or decreasing.
  • The breast pain is subsiding.

Signs you Need Antibiotics

  • Frequent mastitis infections
  • A spiking or rising temperature
  • You feel increasingly ill, hour by hour.
  • Your nipples are sore and cracked.

Typical Antibiotic Treatment

Most often the antibiotics prescribed for mastitis are Augmentin, erythromycin, and cloxacillins and cephalosporins.

These drugs are safe for breastfeeding moms. Expect to take a ten day course of the antibiotics and continue taking them the fully prescribed period even if you feel better sooner. Discontinuing them may cause the infection to return and be even more serious. If you do not feel better after a few days, call your doctor. You may need a stronger antibiotic to rid yourself of the infection.

Whatever you do, don't abandon breastfeeding. It will lead to worsening infection or abscesses and with proper care the infection will disappear soon.

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