Breastfeeding mothers may encounter numerous issues and ailments that are directly related to feeding their child. While many of these conditions are mild and require a minimal amount of medical intervention, there are some which can be quite severe if left untreated. One of the serious issues a breastfeeding mother may encounter is mastitis. Below you will find all of the basics on mastitis, what to look out for, and some typical treatments for the condition.

What is Mastitis?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Postpartum mastitis (PPM) occurs in as many as one-third of breastfeeding women in the United States and leads to breast abscess formation in ≈10% of cases.” It is an infection of the breast tissue that often happens to breastfeeding mothers approximately six to twelve weeks after giving birth. However, the condition is not limited to those who are breastfeeding and may occur at other times after delivery as well. The two most common causes for this condition are a blocked milk duct or bacteria entering the breast tissue through a milk duct opening or a cracked nipple.

Signs and Symptoms

If you have a clogged milk duct or cracked nipples, you should be on the lookout for any of the following signs or symptoms.

  • Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
  • Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
  • Feeling ill or flu-like symptoms
  • Fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or greater
  • Breast swelling
  • Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breastfeeding

It is not uncommon for some of these symptoms to come on suddenly or without warning after a latency period of several days so be vigilant in observing any changes in your breasts. Contact your doctor if you begin experiencing any of the above symptoms. If left untreated, mastitis can lead to an abscess in the breast tissue that requires surgical drainage to correct.


Many doctors will take a four-fold approach to treating mastitis. The first and most common component to treatment is the use of antibiotics to fight the infection. Depending on the degree of breast tenderness and pain, your doctor may also recommend the use of pain medication. If necessary, they may recommend you make some changes to your breastfeeding technique or refer you to a lactation consultant to ensure you are fully emptying your breast and achieving a proper latch. Finally, you must maintain appropriate self-care habits such as getting as much rest as possible and drinking enough water to help fight the infection. Depending on the severity and duration of the infection, additional measures may be required.