What is mastitis?

It's a shame there is so much confusing info out there when you google mastitis.

We are going to make it simple for you here

First point of confusion...

Mastitis is an inflammatory condition of the lobes of the breast. It can develop to be infectious but this does not always occur. Saying that we want you to understand that mastitis does NOT mean infection. Infection can develop though and if you are not improving within 24-48 hours of onset, it's a good idea to see your doctor to discuss.

The cause of mastitis is unclear, with milk stasis (milk not moving), infectious pathogens, stress, and nipple trauma considered as possible reasons for mastitis development.

One of the most commented on causes is milk stasis, that is a blockage in a milk duct, or some physical impact on the natural flow of fluid do the duct.  The pressure that builds up due to the blockage of a duct results in milk seeping into the neighbouring breast tissue where it doesn't belong.  This triggers the inflammation experience with mastitis.

Second confusing point with mastitis...

The thing is, everyone one is told to drain the breast constantly but with mastitis, although yes you want to get out the milk that is still in there, the fullness feeling comes from the inflammation in the breast tissue and isn't milk. That's why when you pump like crazy you'll notice you hardly get a drop at times BUT still your breast feels swollen.

So don't pump like mad, go easy and just gently coax out what's there. Then stop. Yes you will want to check it again multiple times a day but not suck the life out of your breast please.

Third point of confusion...

That if you get a fever you must have an infection. It's simply NOT TRUE. Inflammatory mastitis & infectious mastitis both present with fever.

Symptoms of mastitis:

Mastitis symptoms can vary person to person.

  • flu-like aches known as myalgia - muscle pain
  • fever and chills
  • pink to bright red skin colour over the affected region of skin
  • pain in an area of the breast
  • skin may be shiny and taut
  • feeling a lump or solid area in the breast
  • pain on moving the ribcage or arm, even the jarring of breast tissue from walking
  • feeling terribly unwell or ill
mastitis symptoms | mastitis

Some mothers are mis-diagnosed initially because the breast symptoms have not yet become visible.  A breastfeeding mother with a fever and flu-like aches may begin with some tolerable breast pain that develops quickly into an intense mastitis episode.

You may simply feel like you've been run-over-by-a-bus all of a sudden.

A mastitis affected breast will be experienced as a more intense pain to that of a blocked duct.  You may feel significantly unwell and need to lie down and rest for a few days, just like that of a bad flu.  Mastitis is an illness that should not be be brushed aside.

Common causes of mastitis:

  • blocked milk duct/s
  • trouble emptying the breast ie. latching, engorgement
  • Tight clothing ie bra, singlet, that is compressing a portion of the breast
  • nipple damage
  • long period between breastfeeding
  • difficulty within your body to drain your breast tissue from a musculoskeletal restriction ie posture or shoulder injury/pain
  • baby with latching issues ie tongue-tie
  • an abrupt ending to breastfeeding

What can I do?

Starting treatment early is the best way to get better faster.

Drain the breast of whatever milk is there.

You can do this with baby, with a breast pump or by hand. If by hand, it's often easiest in the shower.  Your milk is safe for baby to consume so relax about that one!!  Getting milk out can be a challenge with mastitis. Sometimes although your breast feels full, it may be from the inflammation and there may actually be very little milk being produced at this time. Your body is clever, and knows your breast is sick. Your body will choose to not overload an unwell breast with milk production. It's a clever system to help you get better sooner.

An interesting fact about mastitis is that your milk will taste salty compared to normal. Why this is important to note is that your baby may refuse you because they love sweet milk.  Don’t worry, once you’re over the mastitis, your milk will once again become sweet to taste. It's all due to the chemistry associated with the inflammatory reaction of mastitis.


Massage is often very helpful but must be done gently as the breast tissue is very sensitive and delicate. Using pressure of about 5-10% with some form of lubricant is a good guide.  A warm shower may provide you with a good environment to massage your breast, allowing the shower water to vibrate the breast tissue as you massage.

We provide a hands-on massage service for clients in Melbourne, Australia at Boroondara Osteopathy.

Warmth or cold?

Good question. Test which one feels the best for you. There is no wrong answer here. Some women feel relief for cold, some for warmth. Test out both and see which one makes you feel most relaxed, and which helps to manage the pain in your breast. Please be careful with heat That it is not at a temperature that will damage your skin.

Cabbage leaves are another option that women try. The main benefit that has been noted about the cabbage leaf is that the pain relief experienced is from the leaf being cool from the fridge and a lovely cup-shape that surrounds the breast. If it feels good for you...do it!

Mastitis over-the-counter pain relief:

Please check with your Doctor or pharmacist when it comes to medication. Most women find paracetemol a good option but it's best to check with your medical practitioner of pharmacist as to the your condition.


The under-estimated part of mastitis recovery. YOU MUST REST. Don't go out if you can help. Put your feet up when you can, sleep and ask for help. You are not weak, you are sick!

Please, stay home, get help from friends or family if possible.

You might also like to try:

  • meditation
  • getting to bed earlier
  • and don’t underestimate physical stress so reduce housework and physical activity as best you can

Fatigue reduces milk production.  You need to get well for your production to pick up again.  Once again, it's your clever body taking care of you!

Stress relief:

Stress & anxiety are one casue that is often not considered for mastitis episodes. Think about how you've been feeling the past few days.

If you feel this could be you, please ask for some help so you reduce the impact of stress & anxiety.  Maybe you need to speak to...

  • family or friends
  • lactation consultant (IBCLC)
  • maternal health nurse
  • midwife
  • psychologist

Getting help as early as possible often results in better outcomes. Motherhood is hard, even harder when you're sick. If you are genuinely feeling overwhelmed, ask for help.

Antibiotics and Mastitis:

Antibiotics may be indicated, depending on the duration and severity of infection. If you’ve been prescribed anti-biotics then please finish the whole course.

Probiotics & Mastitis:

You can also take a pro-biotic such as Qiara to not only assist your gut health but there is also some data on the positive impact Qiara has had with mastitis.

Tight clothes and bras:

Tight clothing over a region of the breast may cause a blockage in a duct. This will impede milk flow which may be what has caused your mastitis episode in the first place.  Have a look at what you've been wearing in the last few days and see if any of your clothes might have wires or seams in the area of the problem. Look for tight line/seams the run across the breast leaving a mark or indent.

Ultrasound therapy & mastitis:

See an experienced practitioner for ultrasound therapy to jiggle the mastitis affected area with therapeutic ultrasound. We offer this in Melbourne, Australia at Boroondara Osteopathy.

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