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  • 24.05.24

Understanding mastitis: The causes, symptoms and treatments

As a breastfeeding mother a range of joys and challenges are thrown your way. One challenge that can sneak up on you is mastitis, a common condition that causes many women significant discomfort and pain. 

Thankfully, at Grace Private we have our experienced midwife team on-hand who have an abundance of knowledge on this topic. Let’s chat about what mastitis is, why it happens and what you can do about it.

What causes mastitis? 

Unfortunately, some women are more prone to mastitis than others. Some common causes of mastitis include: 

  • Poor attachment when breastfeeding. 
  • Breasts that are too full (engorged) due to long breaks between feeds.
  • Blocked milk ducts. 
  • Wearing clothing that is too tight.
  • Nipple damage – trauma from being knocked.
  • Holding your breasts too tight when you breastfeed.
  • A baby with a tongue tie that isn’t attached properly. 
  • Discontinuing breastfeeding too quickly.

Let’s talk about the symptoms of mastitis

When you first have mastitis, you may feel like you’re getting the flu. You could experience a range of symptoms from aching ones to shivers and generally feeling unwell. An area of your breast may look red, shiny and swollen, and you could have a sore spot in your breast. The area may also feel hot to the touch and painful. 

How is mastitis treated? 

We recommend phoning the maternity ward (07 5530 0726) or seeing your GP as soon as possible if you think you may have mastitis. A review of a breastfeed is important to see if any adjustments need to be made to the latch and sometimes assistance from a midwife is needed to massage the blocked duct to hopefully clear it. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, antibiotics may be used to clear mastitis.

How to relieve symptoms of mastitis

Using heat and cold can help to relieve symptoms of mastitis. Cold packs can be used to relieve inflammation and you can apply warmth before feeding for a few minutes. Using warmth (a heat pack, water bottle, shower or warm towel rinsed in hot water) is great for soothing your breasts as well as encouraging milk to ‘let down’, to prevent blocked ducts and relieve discomfort.  

Some other things you can do to relieve the symptoms of mastitis include: 

  • Alternate your baby’s feeding position when you’re breastfeeding.
  • Offer the affected breast first and try to feed from the breast as much as possible. 
  • Speak with your doctor about over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol. 
  • Rest as much as you can and take care of yourself. 

You can still breastfeed if you have mastitis, actually feeding your baby more and emptying your breasts can be of great benefit. Ensure your baby is attached properly and offer the affected side first, then the other. If your baby isn’t feeding well, you can express it instead.

How do I prevent mastitis? 

Here are some handy hints that may help to prevent mastitis:

  • Feed your baby as much as they need, emptying your breasts as much as possible.
  • Offer both breasts – or alternate between feeds if your baby only has one breast at a time. 
  • Try to avoid missing feeds.
  • When your breasts feel engorged, it’s okay to wake your baby to feed them. 
  • If your breasts still feel full after feeding your baby, express this to offer comfort.
  • Don’t put pressure on your breasts while you are breastfeeding. 
  • Rest as much as you can. 

Help with mastitis

If you suspect you have mastitis, or have any other worries about breastfeeding, contact your home visiting midwife, the maternity ward or a community lactation consultant. Grace is able to provide you with a list of recommended lactation consultants if needed. If you’d like to see a GP you can book an appointment with one of Grace Private’s experienced Women’s Health GPs

For further reading on mastitis: The Australian Breastfeeding Association

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