Mastitis refers to inflammation that occurs in the breast, usually in women who are within their first three months of breastfeeding. Mastitis usually only affects one breast and symptoms develop rapidly.
Mastitis is usually caused by a build-up of milk within the breast tissue, a condition referred to as milk stasis. Sometimes, this accumulated milk becomes infected with bacteria, in which case the term infective mastitis applies.
In non-breastfeeding women, mastitis can develop as a result of damage or injury to the nipple. This is called periductal mastitis.
Some of the symptoms of mastitis include:
- Pain in the breast
- Redness and swelling of the breast
- The presence of hardened breast tissue or a lump
- The nipple may be red, swollen and painful to touch
- A burning sensation may occur when the baby tries to feed from the affected breast
- Nipple discharge
- A general feeling of malaise
- Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills and body aches
Women can usually be easily treated for mastitis and symptoms can resolve 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 Sally Robertson, BSc