Mastitis can usually be easily treated and most women make a full recovery very quickly.
Many cases of mastitis that aren't caused by an infection often improve through using self-care techniques, such as:
- making sure you get plenty of rest
- drinking plenty of fluids
- using over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce any pain or fever – a small amount of paracetamol can enter the breast milk, but it's not enough to harm your baby (it's not safe to take aspirin while breastfeeding)
- avoiding tight-fitting clothing, including bras, until your symptoms improve
- if you're breastfeeding, regularly expressing milk from your breasts
- placing a warm cloth soaked with warm water (a compress) over your breast to help relieve the pain – a warm shower or bath may also help
If your GP thinks your mastitis is caused by an infection, you may need to take antibiotics.
Expressing breast milk
If you're breastfeeding and you have mastitis, it's likely to be caused by a build-up of milk within the affected breast. Regularly expressing milk from your breast can often help improve the condition quickly.
One of the best ways to express milk from your breast is to continue breastfeeding your baby, or expressing milk by hand or using a pump. Continuing to breastfeed your baby won't harm them, even if your breast is also infected.
The milk from the affected breast may be a little saltier than normal, but it's safe for your baby to drink. Any bacteria present in the milk will be harmlessly absorbed by the baby's digestive system and won't cause any problems.
You may find that expressing breast milk becomes easier by:
- breastfeeding your baby as often and as long as they're willing to feed, starting feeds with the sore breast first
- making sure your baby is properly positioned and attached to your breasts – your midwife or health visitor will advise you about how to do this; read more about breastfeeding positioning and attachment
- experimenting by feeding your baby in different positions
- massaging your breast to clear any blockages – stroke from the lumpy or tender area towards your nipple to help the milk flow
- warming your breast with warm water – this can soften it and help your breast milk flow better, making it easier for your baby to feed
- making sure your breast is empty after feeds by expressing any remaining milk
- if necessary, expressing milk between feeds – see expressing breast milk for more information
Contact your GP if your symptoms worsen or don't improve within 12 to 24 hours of trying these techniques. If this happens, it's likely that you have an infection and will need antibiotics.
If you're breastfeeding and the above measures haven't helped improve your symptoms, or your GP can see your nipple is clearly infected, you'll be prescribed a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria responsible. These should be taken in addition to continuing the self-help measures above.
Your GP will also usually prescribe a course of antibiotics if you develop mastitis and aren't breastfeeding.
If you're breastfeeding, your GP will prescribe a safe antibiotic. This will usually be a tablet or capsule that you take by mouth (orally) four times a day for up to 14 days.
A very small amount of the antibiotic may enter your breast milk, which may make your baby irritable and restless. Their stools may become looser and more frequent.
This is usually temporary and will resolve once you've finished the course of antibiotics. They don't pose a risk to your baby.
Contact your GP again if your symptoms worsen or haven't begun to improve within 48 hours of starting antibiotic treatment.
Surgery to remove one or more of your milk ducts may be recommended in some cases in non-breastfeeding women that recur frequently or persist despite treatment.
This operation is usually performed with a general anaesthetic where you're asleep, and lasts about 30 minutes. Most people can go home the same day as the procedure or the day after.
If all of the milk ducts in one of your breasts are removed during this operation, you'll no longer be able to breastfeed using that breast. You may also lose some sensation in the nipple of the treated breast(s).
Make sure you discuss all the risks and implications of surgery with your doctor and surgeon beforehand.