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Mastitis is a painful condition affecting up to 1 in 10 mothers while breastfeeding.

Breast tissue gets inflamed and painful because of milk building-up in the breast. If this milk becomes infected, the condition is called infective mastitis.

Mastitis doesn't harm the baby during breastfeeding, even if you have an infection.

Mastitis can also affect women who are not breastfeeding but have an infected breast. This can be due to bacteria entering the breast through piercings or through cracks in the skin or the nipple, often in younger women and smokers. Shortening of the milk ducts towards menopause can also lead to mastitis.

Seek medical advice as soon as possible for mastitis to avoid complications developing, such as a breast abscess.

Mastitis symptoms

Mastitis can develop quickly and tends to affect one breast, not both at the same time.

Part of the breast may be painful to touch. There may also be a burning pain, either all the time or just when breastfeeding.

Part of the breast may feel hot, and look swollen and red. It may also feel hard or lumpy.

There may be discharge from the nipple, which may contain blood.

As well as the symptoms affecting the breast itself, a woman may feel like she has symptoms of flu, such as a fever, aches and fatigue.

Mastitis diagnosis

A doctor will diagnose mastitis based on the symptoms and an examination of the affected breast.

Mastitis treatment and prevention

Antibiotics may be prescribed for mastitis, especially if an infection is suspected.

If the mastitis keeps coming back during breastfeeding, the doctor may recommend help with breastfeeding techniques. More frequent feeds, or expressing milk between feeds may help.

Other measures that may be recommended include drinking plenty of fluids and resting.

Fever or pain may be relieved with over-the-counter painkillers, including paracetamol or ibuprofen. A warm bath or shower, or using a warm compress may also help with the discomfort.

It may help to avoid tight-fitting bras and clothes until the mastitis clears up.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 24, 2015

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