Mastitis is a condition characterised by inflammation and swelling of the breast. It is most common among breastfeeding mothers, affecting nearly 1 in 5, and usually occurs during the first 6 to 12 weeks of breastfeeding. While the condition can seem worrying, mastitis can be resolved with a combination of medical and at-home treatments and is not a cause of concern for your child.

What causes mastitis?

Mastitis is usually the result of a blocked milk duct and can occur with or without infection. When the milk accumulates behind the blocked duct, it can be forced into nearby breast tissue, causing inflammation, swelling and discomfort.

Mastitis may also be caused by a bacterial infection on the skin. These conditions are common and usually harmless. However, if bacteria enter the skin due to a tear or cracking around the nipple, mastitis can occur.

What are the symptoms?

Mastitis can lead to an array of uncomfortable symptoms. You may feel run-down, achy or generally ill, while other common issues include:

• Swelling or breast enlargement
• Redness, itchiness or warm sensation on the breast
• Tenderness on the breast or under the arm
• A burning sensation while breastfeeding
• Discharge from the nipple
• Fever, chills or nausea

Can I still breastfeed with mastitis?

While the symptoms of mastitis may discourage you from breastfeeding, it is crucial that you try to maintain your natural breastfeeding routine. Regular breastfeeding will help to:

• Remove blocked breast milk
• Clear symptoms more quickly
• Prevent mastitis from worsening

Though the milk from the affected breast may be slightly saltier than usual, it is still safe for your baby to drink. Any bacteria present in the milk will be harmlessly absorbed and disposed of through the baby’s digestive system.

How is mastitis diagnosed and treated?

Mastitis is diagnosed clinically by a doctor or medical professional. Through a verbal and physical examination, your doctor will be able to determine the severity of your condition and the most suitable course of treatment. If you are breastfeeding, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic that is safe to use. They may also suggest ways to help relieve symptoms and improve your condition at-home.

How do I alleviate symptoms?

If you experience symptoms of mastitis, it is vital that you seek medical treatment immediately to ensure the condition is appropriately identified and managed. This will also help you avoid further health complications, such as the formation of a breast abscess. Once the condition has been clinically diagnosed, your doctor may suggest the following at-home methods to help alleviate your symptoms:

• Feed more often than usual
• Start each feed on the affected breast
• Drain the affected breast regularly
• Ensure the breast is empty after feeds by expressing any remaining milk
• Massage the breast to release any blockages
• Ensure that your baby is properly positioned and attached to your breasts
• Shift feeding positions to help clear the blockage

Eating well and resting enough will also improve your general health and wellbeing, so be sure to take care of yourself as well as your child.