Published on 9th February 2022

This blog was reviewed by lactation consultant Stacey Zimmels and updated on 09/18/23.

One of the many thousands of things you’ll learn after giving birth is that taking care of your breasts and nipples is almost as important as taking care of your baby. After all, the two go hand-in-hand. Or boob-in-boob, if you will. 

Mastitis is a common complication of lactation. It can develop quickly, and carries a risk of breast abscesses if left untreated, so it isn't something to be taken lightly. It’s a breast condition that most commonly occurs in breastfeeding moms, and which is most prevalent in the early postpartum period, although it can occur at any point during lactation and can also occur without breastfeeding.

Mastitis can either affect the whole breast or a section, causing colour changes to the skin (however they may not be seen in women with darker skin tones), breast swelling, breasts which are hot and tender to the touch and also blocked ducts which  may feel like lumps. Other symptoms include feeling like you have the flu. 

If you’re reading this and wondering how to get relief for mastitis, well, keep reading. There’s no need to stop breastfeeding (unless you want to, of course) and there are a number of different self-care techniques that you can employ to treat it. 

What is mastitis?

Mastitis is a painful inflammation of the breast that can lead to a bacterial infection. It is typically characterised by pain, redness in white skin tones and purple in darker skin tones – although colour changes may not be seen in dark skinned women – swelling and a hot sensation in the breast. Sufferers of mastitis may also experience flu-like symptoms such as a fever, a high temperature, fatigue, and general aches and pains.

In many cases, mastitis can be mistaken for a clogged milk duct or engorgement, but while there can be a crossover, mastitis tends to be accompanied with additional symptoms rather than those just associated with engorgement or plugged ducts.

Can pumping help mastitis?

The good news is that treatment for breastfeeding mums with mastitis can include and sometimes only involves self-care, rest and first-line pain medications. It doesn’t always require antibiotics. 

Continuing to breastfeed or pump (if you are pumping) regularly and effectively is key here. Previous guidance suggested additional pumping to remove milk would be beneficial, however, more recent guidelines suggest that this will increase supply and could increase inflammation.

If pumping with mastitis causes you to experience significant discomfort on the affected side, ensure that the suction level isn’t too high and that your breast shields fit properly.

If you’re having problems breastfeeding or expressing, always speak with your doctor, because mastitis will only get worse as your breasts become fuller.

Self-care tips for mastitis

Mastitis can be very painful and tiring, so rest and relaxation are important, as are simple wellbeing hacks like staying hydrated. You can use paracetamol or ibuprofen for relief from pain or fever. Wear loose clothing and avoid bras that are too tight.

The most important thing to remember is to continue to breastfeed even if you have an infection. This will reduce the risk of your symptoms worsening and won’t harm your baby. Here are our simple yet effective tips for treating mastitis through self-care:

  • Get some good old-fashioned R&R

  • Stay well hydrated even if you don’t feel like eating

  • Avoid restrictive clothing but continue to wear a supportive but not too tight fitting bra.

  • Take pain relief as needed

  • Ensure the milk bar is open for business (in short, continue breastfeeding or pumping regularly to empty the breasts)

Home remedies for mastitis 

You can also try some natural home remedies to treat mastitis. 

  • Gentle massage and lymphatic drainage may be helpful in reducing inflation but avoid any deep vigorous massage as it may increase inflammation

Effective positioning and attachment

One of the possible causes of mastitis is ineffective milk removal at the breast. Be sure to optimise your baby’s position and attachment at the breast during breastfeeding. Changing your feeding positions will not treat mastitis per se, but could help to relieve discomfort by helping remove milk. The dangle feeding position in which the mother kneels on all fours with the baby beneath her may help to release blocked ducts. 

Apply a cold compress

One of the best ways to ease inflammation from mastitis is to apply a cold compress to the affected breast. Simply soak a towel or flannel in cold water and place it over the breast for up to 20 minutes. 

If you are struggling to get the milk to flow before pumping or breastfeeding you may find it helpful to use a warm compress just before you pump/feed. While this has not been shown to help with mastitis, it may help with milk removal if engorged due to the mastitis. 

When to see a doctor for mastitis

In many cases applying self-care treatments alone should relieve your symptoms of mastitis. However, if symptoms don’t improve within 24 hours despite continuing to breastfeed, then you should see your doctor. You should also consult a professional if you continue to feel feverish or if your temperature rises above 38.4°C. Antibiotic treatment may be advised, first-line treatment is 10-14 days of Flucloxicillin 500mg.

You should also seek professional medical advice if you experience any of the following. 

  • Severe breast pain.

  • Changes in the way your breasts feel.

  • A newly discovered lump.

  • Nipple discharge.

  • Worsening of symptoms, even after taking antibiotics or several days of at-home treatment.

The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.