Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2008;78(6):732

See related article on mastitis.

What is mastitis?

Mastitis (mas-TY-tuss) is a swelling of the breast that is usually caused by an infection. This often happens during breastfeeding. Women with mastitis may have pain with a tender, red, wedge-shaped area on the breast. They may also have fever and chills, or they may feel tired and sick.

What can I do to prevent it?

Using the best breastfeeding method lowers your risk. Your baby should latch onto the nipple with his or her mouth open wide. Change your baby's position during feedings to help empty all the areas of the breast. If you need to stop a feeding, break the suction using your finger. Don't wear tight-fitting bras or breast pads that cause your nipples to stay moist after breastfeeding. Air your nipples when possible. Tell your doctor or lactation consultant if you have nipple pain during nursing.

How is it treated?

It is important to keep breastfeeding when you have mastitis. Your breast milk will not be bad for your baby, even if you have mastitis, although some infants may not like the taste. If you stop breastfeeding, germs can spread in the milk that is left in your breast, and your infection can get worse. Pain medicines such as acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (one brand name: Advil) are usually safe for you to take. Warm showers can also help with the pain. If you cannot nurse your baby, you should pump your breasts to remove the milk. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help get rid of the infection. Getting enough rest helps you feel better faster. You should drink extra fluids. Talk to your doctor if your symptoms get worse.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

La Leche League International

International Lactation Consultant Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Breastfeeding Helpline

  • Telephone: 1-800-994-9662 (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST)

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