Heat, Rest, Empty Breast: Mastitis Explained

Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast tissue that usually involves an infection.  When I talk breastfeeding one of the most important points I stress is you want to ensure your baby has a good latch.  Not only does a good latch stimulate the breasts to set up a great milk supply but it also helps prevent nipple damage.  

Damage to the nipples can be an entryway for bacteria that could lead to a breast infection, such as mastitis.  I also stress the importance of feeding your baby on demand. It is the supply and demand system and not only does the stimulation set up your milk supply but also the frequent feeds ensure the breasts are being fully emptied.  You don’t want stagnant milk sitting in the breast as it can lead to blocked milk ducts, which can become infected and you guessed it…MASTITIS. Milk stasis is the most common cause of mastitis.  

Is this mastitis?!

Mastitis is usually unilateral and more commonly located in the upper outer quadrant of the breast.  So, on one side mom will feel a hard pie or wedge-shaped swollen area. The area will be red and maybe even have red streaks, be warm to touch and painful.  Mastitis can come on abruptly and mom will feel unwell. Moms often experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills and fatigue. If a mom with mastitis were to express milk the milk may have a lumpy, clumpy stringy look to it.  Moms can and are encouraged to continue breastfeeding their babe through mastitis. Due to the infection, breast milk has a high sodium and chloride content and therefore a salty taste that babe may refuse. The key is to keep emptying the breasts.  If the baby won’t nurse from the affected side then pump that breast until it is empty.  

What can I do?


Apply a warm cloth to the affected breast 15 minutes before a feed.  This will increase milk flow in the breast. Massaging the breast can also help increase the milk flow.  Drink plenty of fluids and try to get lots of rest to help your body fight the infection. And of course, keep that breast empty!  If your symptoms are not improving or are worsening then you need to reach out to your health care provider as you will need antibiotic treatment.  

Mastitis is more common in the first few weeks/months of breastfeeding but it can occur at any stage in lactation.  Be sure to get the proper treatment for mastitis as delaying treatment can lead to a breast abscess (collection of pus), which will then lead to a sick mom, be harder to treat and may need surgical drainage.

Reach out to a Mama Coach in your area if you need lactation support, as a good latch from the start of your breastfeeding journey and frequently emptying your breasts may help prevent complications such as mastitis.  

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