Mastitis is when your breast becomes swollen, hot and painful.
It is most common in breastfeeding women and does not usually need medical treatment.
Check if you have mastitis
Mastitis usually only affects 1 breast, and symptoms often come on quickly. They include:
- a swollen area on your breast that may feel hot and painful to touch – the area may become red but this can be harder to see if you have black or brown skin
- a wedge-shaped breast lump or a hard area on your breast
- a burning pain in your breast that might be constant or only when you breastfeed
- nipple discharge, which may be white or contain streaks of blood
You may also get flu-like symptoms, such as aches, a high temperature, chills and tiredness.
Things you can do to ease mastitis
if you are breastfeeding, continue to breastfeed your baby when they want and for as long as they want. You can also offer your baby a breastfeed if your breasts are uncomfortably full
when breastfeeding make sure your baby is positioned and attached properly. Your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist can advise you.
a cloth soaked in warm water and applied to the breast (or a shower or bath) may improve milk flow
breast pain may be soothed using a cold compress (for example a cloth soaked in cold water)
rest and drink lots of fluids
do not wear tight-fitting clothing or bras until you feel better
do not take aspirin
do not express more milk than your baby needs
do not apply firm pressure to the breast - any pressure should be gentle
do not stop breastfeeding suddenly – find out how to stop breastfeeding
do not apply oils, soaks or creams to your breast
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- your symptoms do not get better 12 to 24 hours after treating it at home
- your symptoms do not get better 48 hours after taking antibiotics
- you get mastitis and you are not breastfeeding
Treatment for mastitis from a GP
A GP will usually prescribe antibiotics if you have mastitis and your symptoms are not getting better.
If you're breastfeeding a very small amount of the antibiotic may go into your breast milk. There is no risk to your baby, but it might make them irritable and restless.
What to do if mastitis comes back
If you are breastfeeding and keep getting mastitis, it might be due to problems with positioning and attaching.
If you have any breastfeeding problems, it's important to ask for help from a midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist as soon as possible.
Causes of mastitis
Mastitis is common in breastfeeding women as it can be caused by a build-up of milk.
Women who are not breastfeeding can also get mastitis, as can men. This can be caused by:
- smoking – toxins found in tobacco can damage breast tissue
- damage to the nipple, such as a piercing or skin condition such as eczema
- having a breast implant
- having a weakened immune system due to a health condition such as diabetes
- shaving or plucking hairs from around your nipples
Page last reviewed: 17 March 2023
Next review due: 17 March 2026