Breastfeeding And Breast Infection

  • Riya Apurva Vyas Masters of Biomedical Sciences- MSc, University of Westminster, London
  • Rooman Ul HaqMaster of Science - MS, Public Health, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad

Breastfeeding is the inherent method of nourishing a baby with milk produced by the mother's mammary glands. It provides essential nutrients and antibodies for the baby's optimal growth and development. Breast infection, also known as mastitis, is a condition where the breast tissue becomes inflamed and painful due to bacteria entering the breast, often causing symptoms like fever, redness, and swelling, and typically requires prompt medical attention and proper antibiotic treatment.1

Breastfeeding and its benefits

Breast milk is a dynamic substance comparable to blood, consisting of various components, each serving a specific purpose and carrying unique significance. Mammals produce distinct milk types tailored to their offspring, and cows, for example, generate milk specifically designed for their calves, forming the foundation of formula milk. The breast milk is produced by the body in such a way that it is easily digestible, nutrient-rich, and well-balanced, containing everything your baby needs in the perfect proportions.

Additionally, breast milk offers remarkable protective benefits, including a potential reduction in the risk of future cardiovascular diseases and both type one and type two diabetes. One of the most remarkable protective mechanisms of breast milk is its ability to provide antibodies against illnesses. When your baby contracts an infection and you continue breastfeeding, your breast produces specific antibodies targeted at that particular infection.

These antibodies are then transmitted into the breast milk, assisting your baby in overcoming the infection and reducing their risk of getting the same illness. Remarkably, these antibodies can also help decrease your own susceptibility to that infection. Furthermore, if you become ill, it is crucial to continue breastfeeding, as your body will produce antibodies against the infection you have. These valuable antibodies will be present in your breast milk, aiding your baby in fighting off the potential infection as well.

What is Mastitis?

Mastitis is characterized by inflammation, heat, and pain in the breast, primarily affecting breastfeeding women, and typically doesn't necessitate medical intervention.

Symptoms of breast infection

Signs of mastitis include atypical swelling causing breast asymmetry, breast tenderness, pain or discomfort during breastfeeding, the presence of a painful lump, itching, warmth in the affected breast, chills, nipple discharge containing pus, redness in a wedge-shaped pattern on the breast skin, enlarged lymph nodes in the armpits or neck, fever exceeding 101°F or 38.3°C, and a general feeling of illness or fatigue.

How to check if you have Mastitis?

Typically, mastitis impacts a single breast, and its symptoms develop frequently, encompassing a swollen, tender, and warm area that may appear red (visibly less on dark skin), along with a distinct wedge-shaped lump or hardened region on the breast. The condition may also cause a burning sensation, either continuously or occurring during breastfeeding, and can cause whitish or bloody discharge from the nipple. Additionally, flu-like symptoms like body aches, high temperature, chills, and fatigue can also cause breast infection.

Relief strategies for Mastitis 

Things to do to relief from the Mastitis

If you are feeding your baby then it is necessary to feed on demand and for as long as the baby desires. Moreover, if your breasts become uncomfortably full, offering a breastfeeding session can help. Ensuring correct positioning and attachment of the baby during breastfeeding is crucial, and seeking guidance from a midwife, health visitor, or breastfeeding specialist is advisable.

To improve milk flow, a warm water-soaked cloth or a shower/bath can be beneficial, while breast pain may be relieved with a cold compress. Rest and ample fluid intake are important, and if necessary, pain or fever can be managed with paracetamol or ibuprofen. For comfort, gently stroking the breast from the top towards the nipple is suggested, avoiding excessive pressure or rubbing, which may exacerbate the pain.

Factors affecting mastitis

Mastitis is prevalent among breastfeeding women since it can result from milk accumulation. However, mastitis can also affect non-breastfeeding women and even men due to various causes, including smoking, which exposes the breast tissue to harmful toxins. Other factors may include nipple damage from piercings or skin conditions like eczema, breast implants, weakened immune systems resulting from health conditions like diabetes, or activities like shaving or plucking hairs around the nipples.5

How to treat Mastitis

The first step is to continue breastfeeding, despite the potential pain, as stopping may worsen the blockage. Even in the presence of an infection, breastfeeding poses no harm to the baby, though the milk might have a slightly salty taste. Ensuring proper latch and aim for 8 to 12 feedings daily, including night feeds, is crucial. To alleviate discomfort and promote the let-down reflex, placing a warm flannel over the breast before nursing can be helpful.

After feeds, it is essential to express any remaining milk by hand or with a pump. If there is no improvement despite regular feeding, seeking medical attention is recommended to assess the possibility of an infection and determine the need for antibiotics. Moreover, a breastfeeding specialist can also provide assistance in assessing the baby's attachment and positioning.

Reducing the risk of Mastitis

  • If possible, prioritize exclusive breastfeeding and avoid using infant formula or a dummy as primary supplement
  • Feed your baby frequently, avoiding prolonged gaps between feeds to prevent breast milk accumulation
  • Encourage your baby to feed when you feel your breasts becoming full to maintain comfort and prevent issues
  • Ensure proper latch-on by experimenting with different breastfeeding positions to find the most comfortable one
  • Allow your baby to finish feeding on their own; they will eventually detach when satisfied
  • If you wish to wean, gradually reduce the frequency of feeds instead of suddenly extending the time between feeds
  • Avoid wearing overly tight bras or clothing that can exert pressure on your breasts3

Breast Infection examination and diagnostic tests

The diagnosis of mastitis and breast abscess is typically based on a physical examination. If uncertainty arises regarding whether a mass is an abscess filled with fluid or a solid tumor, additional tests like an ultrasound may be performed. Ultrasound is useful in distinguishing between simple mastitis and abscess or identifying deep-seated abscesses.

It allows visualization of the abscess using a non-invasive probe placed on the breast. If an abscess is confirmed, treatment may involve aspiration or surgical drainage along with IV antibiotics. Cultures of breast milk or abscess material can help identify the causative organism, aiding in selecting the appropriate antibiotic treatment.

In the case of non-breastfeeding women with mastitis or non-responsive cases, a mammogram or breast biopsy may be done as a precautionary measure, as a rare type of breast cancer can present with mastitis-like symptoms.4

There are also some methods to use by yourself to ease the Mastitis.

  • Stay hydrated by drinking fluids whenever you feel thirsty
  • Get sufficient rest by nursing your baby to sleep and feeding them frequently (about 8 to 12 times a day, including at night)
  • Ensure all your breast milk is removed by expressing it in between and after feeds
  • For pain relief, consider taking medications like paracetamol and ibuprofen; although some paracetamol may enter your breast milk, it won't harm your baby
  • Avoid wearing tight and restrictive clothing, including bras, as they can impede milk flow
  • Alleviate discomfort by applying a warm flannel over your breast. Additionally warm showers or baths can also be helpful
  • If tolerable, gently massage the affected area and its surroundings


Breastfeeding is a crucial method of nourishing infants with milk produced by the mother's mammary glands. Breast milk offers numerous benefits, including essential nutrients and antibodies, which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It also provides specific antibodies against illnesses, making it a powerful protective mechanism for both the baby and the mother. Mastitis, a breast infection characterized by inflammation and pain, can occur during breastfeeding, requiring prompt medical attention and proper treatment.

Understanding preventive measures, self-care methods, and seeking medical assistance when needed can help manage mastitis effectively. Diagnostic tests such as ultrasounds and cultures play a vital role in identifying and treating breast infections. Overall, breastfeeding and its benefits, along with proper management of breast infections, contribute to the well-being of both the mother and the baby.


  1. Breast Infection (Mastitis): Causes, Symptoms, and How to Treat. Healthline [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2024 Mar 28]. Available from:
  2. Mastitis - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 28]. Available from:
  3. Mastitis. [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2024 Mar 28]. Available from:
  4. Mastitis - Breastfeeding challenges - Start for Life. [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 Mar 28]. Available from:
  5. Watson S. Breast Infection Basics. WebMD [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 28]. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Riya Apurva Vyas

Masters of Biomedical Sciences- MSc, University of Westminster, London

I am a skilled healthcare professional with experience as a Pharmacy Assistant, Researcher, and Medical Laboratory Assistant. In my current role, I dispense prescriptions using a Pharmacy Manager Software, follow SOPs for Asda and NHS, ensure medication safety through proper temperature maintenance, and provide patient advice on OTC medicine. As a Researcher, I examined gene expression in triple negative breast cancer and contributed to reliable research conclusions through accurate primer design and proficiency in techniques such as Western Blot and qRT-PCR. Additionally, as a Medical Laboratory Assistant, I maintained accurate patient records, performed diagnostic tests, followed protocols, ensured safety compliance, and provided patient consultation.

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