Mastitis is when your breast tissue becomes inflamed or infected. It can hurt, but there are ways to make it better, so don’t suffer in silence.
What are the symptoms?
The first symptoms are likely to be feeling hot and shivery, similar to flu-like symptoms.
Like engorgement, mastitis is caused by a build-up of milk, when a small amount blocks a milk duct. It typically happens 2-3 weeks after the birth and, unlike engorgement, usually affects only one breast. In most cases, your breast will become hot and painful and you may notice a sore lump or red wedge-shaped area.
What causes it?
Mastitis happens when milk can't flow along a duct (a milk channel in your breast). Milk then 'builds up' and can cause a duct in your breast to become blocked. Milk leakage will cause your temperature to rise and makes you feel shivery but in the early stages it’s not usually a sign of infection. The surrounding breast tissue becomes inflamed, causing the pain, lump or red area you may have noticed. Mastitis can happen due to missed or shorter than normal feeds, or too much pressure on your breast from your bra or clothing.
However, the most common cause is incorrect positioning and attachment, where your baby isn’t latching on to the breast properly to feed.
What's the solution?
You can take anti-inflammatory tablets and apply a warm compress before feeding to soothe the pain. However, the most important thing is to get someone to help you position and attach your baby correctly – your midwife or health visitor can help with this.
Speak to your doctor if after 2 feeds (6-8 hours) you are still feeling hot and shivery or the inflammation or lump is worsening. They may prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory tablets or antibiotics. Anything you're given will be safe for breastfeeding, but using antibiotics can make thrush more likely so try correcting positioning and attachment and anti-inflammatory medication urgently in the first instance to see if you can clear it yourself.
If you're concerned you may have mastitis, call your midwife or health visitor right away. If you are still feeling shivery after a few hours and have a high temperature (feeling very hot and then very cold) then ring your GP immediately, or if they aren’t open call NHS24 on 111.
It's probably the last thing you want to do, but try to carry on frequent breastfeeding during a bout of mastitis – emptying the breast is the only solution. Watch the video to hear a mum's story on how she overcame mastitis.