What is mastitis? Everything you need to know about the painful condition

Mastitis is a condition that affects a lot of mums who breastfeed their babies, but what are the symptoms and what can you do to treat it and prevent it?

The painful condition is often talked about in the news, as mums try to raise awareness about it on social media, but how can you tell if you’re suffering from it? We spoke to health experts about how to spot, treat and prevent mastitis…

What is mastitis?

Mastitis is inflammation of the breast, and it’s usually more common during the first three months of breastfeeding.

Dr Clare Morrison, GP at online pharmacy and doctor MedExpress, says: ‘Mastitis is due to the milk not draining properly, but staying in the milk ducts, which creates pressure and discomfort, sometimes leading to infection, or even an abscess.’

However, it can also affect women who aren’t breastfeeding, for example if the nipple becomes infected due to a piercing or cracked skin.

What are the symptoms of mastitis and can women spot it early?

The most common symptom of mastitis is a painful lump on your breast, accompanied by swelling, and redness of part of the breast. It can also be associated with flu-like symptoms, such as a sore throat and high temperature.

Because the symptoms often appear suddenly, it’s not always possible to catch it early. Dr Kav Patel, online doctor for Push Doctor, says: ‘The lump might feel squidgy, like a fluid filled ball but can be hard. You may also notice that the skin over the lump is red, hot to touch and you might feel unwell with a temperature.

‘You might also experience a burning sensation, either during breastfeeding or on and off throughout the day. You may also notice a discharge from the nipples, which can sometimes contain a bit of blood.’

Mastitis symptoms

What is the treatment for mastitis?

Mastitis treatment usually includes taking painkillers to relieve discomfort, as well as warm compress and and wearing loose fitting clothing for comfort.

Dr Morrison also advises that mums massage the affected area and express excess milk after and between feeds if necessary, to relieve the pressure.

However, if the symptoms persist, you should see your GP in case you need antibiotics to treat it.

Can you still breastfeed if you’re suffering with mastitis?

If you’re suffering from the condition, you can still safely breastfeed your baby. Dr Patel says: ‘You certainly don’t need to stop breastfeeding – quite the opposite, in fact. Ensuring you feed regularly and expel any remaining milk afterwards will help your symptoms.’

How can mastitis be avoided?

To prevent mastitis, Dr Morrison says it’s important to drain each section of the breast fully, when feeding.

‘It helps to change position now and again, make sure the baby is latched on properly, feed frequently, and allow plenty of time for each feed. It also helps to drink plenty of fluids, and get enough rest’, she adds.