Mastitis and Breastfeeding: What Every Mom Needs to Know


Jessica Lamberg

Breastfeeding is quite the journey, especially when it’s your first baby. The first six months of nursing my son went smoothly, but I had occasionally started to skip my afternoon pumping session. Unfortunately, this approach led to me getting a clogged milk duct, and I didn’t recognize the mastitis symptoms until I felt like I had the flu.

I was shivering, running a fever, and couldn’t put on enough layers to stop the chills. I was convinced that I had the flu until it dawned on me that it had been more than five hours since I had nursed or pumped. I remembered the mastitis symptoms I learned about from the breastfeeding classes I took while pregnant and immediately nursed my son. I felt immediate relief but knew that I needed to contact my doctor. I started on antibiotics the next day and continued to feel better, although it took a while for my symptoms to fully subside.

What is mastitis?

Image Courtesy of Milkbar

Mastitis is inflammation in the breast. Mastitis occurs over time when clogged milk ducts are compressed or overly full, which can cause inflammation and swelling. It can also occur when bacteria gets into the milk duct and causes an infection.

Common causes of mastitis

Milk ducts can become clogged or blocked due to infrequent feedings, missed feedings, a change in your baby’s feeding habits or prolonged engorgement. Cuts or damage to the nipple can also lead to an infection.

Mastitis can happen in the first few weeks of having a baby, but it can also happen at any point during your breastfeeding journey. It’s important to know that mastitis is not contagious, and it is actually beneficial to continue breastfeeding your baby to help reduce the inflammation.

What are the most common symptoms of mastitis?

If you are breastfeeding or pumping or a combination of the two, you may be at risk for mastitis. The most common symptoms include:

  • Tender, swollen breasts
  • Hard, sore lump in one or both of your breasts
  • Breast pain or burning
  • Change in the appearance of the skin in one or both breasts
  • Flu-like symptoms like chills and fatigue
  • Low-grade fever of less than 101°F

How to treat it at home, and when you should contact a doctor

If you suspect mastitis, it’s important to reach out to your doctor as soon as possible. If you have an infection, antibiotics and other recommendations from your doctor may help provide some much needed relief and hopefully make it easier for you to continue breastfeeding your baby.

Additional steps you can take at home to help relieve your symptoms include:

  • Rest. It’s important to take care of yourself so you can continue to take care of your baby. This means getting enough rest so your body can recover.
  • Nurse your baby on cue. This includes nursing on both breasts to help reduce inflammation. Even if your baby only nurses for a little bit, it can still help soften the breast and provide some relief.
  • Pump if nursing is not an option to keep your breasts from getting engorged but avoid excessive pumping.
  • Apply cold or ice packs to help reduce swelling. You can apply as often as you need.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Take all prescribed medications from your doctor, even if your symptoms have improved.

If you have a fever and flu-like symptoms, don’t wait to talk to your doctor. If you were already diagnosed with mastitis and don’t feel any better after the first 24-48 hours, contact your doctor.

Can you still pump or breastfeed while you have mastitis?

Yes. You can still pump or breastfeed if you have mastitis. It’s not contagious. Breastfeeding and pumping are encouraged while you have mastitis because it helps to reduce the inflammation in your breasts. Breastfeeding or pumping can provide some much-needed relief so continue with your normal schedule as much as possible.

You may consider trying new feeding positions to improve the chances of completely emptying your breast of breast milk. It’s also important to maintain your normal feeding and pumping schedule. You don’t want to nurse or pump more often than you normally would. The goal is to try to empty the breast as much as possible to prevent engorgement and provide some relief.

Moving on from mastitis

Dealing with mastitis while breastfeeding or pumping can be painful and it’s hard to not feel guilty. But you don’t have to feel ashamed or alone. Recognizing the symptoms and knowing what to do can help you get some relief while you and your baby can get back to your normal routine – however chaotic, messy and wonderful it may be.

Mastitis doesn’t have to end your breastfeeding journey. It’s merely a bump in the road. You got this!


1Mastitis and Sore Breasts - Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment


Meet the Author: Jessica Lamberg

"I'm a wife and mother with a passion for exploring all life has to offer. I'm a seasoned writer in corporate America hoping to find time to write about the things I love."
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