What is Mastitis?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Mastitis is a condition causing inflammation and pain in the breast. The condition is easily diagnosed and treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory agents. Mastitis occurs in up to 1 in 10 women who breastfeed and usually affects women within their first three months of breastfeeding. Mastitis can also develop in women who are not breastfeeding, in which case the condition is referred to as periductal mastitis.

Causes of mastitis

Mastitis in breastfeeding women is often caused by a build up of milk within the breast, referred to as milk stasis. This accumulated milk can sometimes become infected, at which point the condition is referred to as infective mastitis. Milk stasis is caused by a poor grip of the baby’s mouth on the breast, a poor sucking ability or missed feeding sessions. In non-breastfeeding women, infective mastitis may be caused by damage or injury to the nipple.


Mastitis usually only develops in one breast. Symptoms develop rapidly and examples include:

  • Redness
  • The breast may feel hot and painful
  • A lump or hardness in the breast
  • A burning pain in the breast. The pain may be continuous or only occur on breastfeeding
  • Discharge from the affected nipple
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, tiredness, body ache and chills

Diagnosis and treatment

A diagnosis of mastitis is based on the patient’s symptoms and a breast examination. A sample of the patient’s breast milk may also be taken and sent for analysis. In cases of infective mastitis, an antibiotic may be prescribed. Women who have the condition but are not breastfeeding are referred for specialist exams such as ultrasound and mammogram to rule out various conditions.

Women can usually be easily treated for mastitis and recover from the condition quickly. Some measures affected women can take themselves to accelerate recovery include resting and staying well hydrated, using painkillers to treat pain and fever, ensuring proper mouth-to-breast attachment during future feeds, and avoiding tight-fitting clothes.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Sep 16, 2014

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