Mastitis Symptoms

  • Ayesha JamilBachelors of Biomedical Sciences with Honors - University of Nottingham, Malaysia
  • Shivani GulatiMS Pharm, Medicinal Chemistry, National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research, Hyderabad

A newborn baby arrives and contrary to belief, it does bring baggage with it. The bagged may not be in the form of material goods but it can be in the form of different happenings in life, both good and otherwise. Mastitis being one to fall under the otherwise category. Rarely, however, there are still cases where mastitis can happen to individuals regardless if they’ve had a baby or not.

Mastitis, as its name suggests, is an inflammatory condition of the breast. It can happen to both breastfeeding mothers or otherwise (the initial more at risk than the later).

There are ways to manage the condition and preventative measures can be taken to avoid it. But to understand how to do all that, we need to look into the condition a bit deeper. Understanding the building blocks will give to the road map to navigate to avoid mastitis completely or even help someone in need.


Before discussing mastitis symptoms, let's start with understanding the condition. Mastitis is an inflammatory condition which primarily affects breast tissue. The most susceptible demographic is lactating individuals. Especially those mothers who are breastfeeding actively.1,2

When a person breastfeeds, their breasts undergo a lot of changes in order to produce and deliver milk to their baby. It is in those milk ducts that issues may arise especially when there is a block. The blockage ensures that any bacteria present or making its way in, doesn’t get washed out and with all the nutritionally rich milk at its disposal, the blocked duct becomes a prime breeding ground. When these bacteria infect the blocked duct, an immune response is triggered that leads to inflammation and results in mastitis.3 

Causes of mastitis 

Bacterial infection

Bacterial infections are frequently the cause of mastitis. The skin surface is usually found to contain bacteria, like Staphylococcus aureus, which can penetrate the breasts via cracks or torn nipples. They may cause inflammation when they come in, leading to mastitis.4

Milk stasis or blocked milk ducts

One of the primary causes of mastitis, especially in lactating individuals, is blocked milk ducts. Milk may be accumulated and clogged in the milk ducts when it is not adequately diluted out of the breast during breastfeeding. When this milk is stagnant it creates a breeding ground for bacteria that can thrive, leading to inflammation and infection.5

Risk factors

To help people take preventive actions in order to reduce their risk of developing mastitis, they may need to understand the possible causes of this condition. It's very important to keep good breast hygiene, address any breastfeeding challenges as soon as possible, and seek medical advice/care if any symptoms of mastitis arise.

Risk factors include:6,7

  • Breast engorgement due to infrequent feeding or sudden weaning
  • Incorrect breastfeeding technique can hinder proper milk drainage leading to engorgement
  • Lack of immune function caused by stress, fatigue which is not unusual for new parents or other underlying health conditions and makes the person more susceptible to infections
  • Some skin disorders, e.g. eczema or dermatitis, can lead to cracks and breaks in the skin around the nipple area. These openings act as a pathway for bacteria to enter breast tissue
  • The blocked milk ducts may be caused by external pressures on the breast, e.g. tight fitting bras or sleeping in an uncomfortable position

Common symptoms of mastitis 

  • Breast pain and tenderness
  • Breast swelling and warmth
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Breast lump or firmness
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Nipple discharge or blood8

Types of mastitis 

The following types of mastitis are the most common: lactational and notational mastitis. Lactational mastitis, as the name suggests, occurs during breastfeeding (known as lactation in medical jargon) and is the more prevalent form of the condition. Non-lactational mastitis, on the other hand, can affect individuals who are not breastfeeding, and it is often associated with other underlying health issues. The third one is a more advanced stage of mastitis called septic mastitis.1

Lactational mastitis

Lactational mastitis is the most common type and occurs in individuals who are breastfeeding. It's usually caused by a blockage in the milk ducts, which leads to inflammation as well as some infections of bacteria. As a breastfeeding individual, it is important to be aware of the signs of lactational mastitis and seek early intervention to prevent complications.3

Non-lactational mastitis

Individuals who are not lactating may be affected by unlactiated mastitis, also called periductal mastitis. This form of mastitis is often associated with smoking, as it can cause changes in the breast ducts and increase the risk of infection. Non-lactational mastitis is more prevalent in younger women and can be recurrent in some cases.1,9,10

Septic mastitis

A serious form of the illness that occurs as a result of an infection in the blood is septic mastitis. Urgent care and treatment with IV antibiotics are needed for this type of mastitis. Septic mastitis is relatively rare but can be life-threatening if not addressed promptly.

Diagnosing mastitis 

During the diagnostic process, the healthcare provider will conduct a comprehensive assessment. The assessment can include various steps.11

Physical examination

 In order to identify signs of inflammation, redness, tenderness and any additional anomalies in the breast it is necessary to carry out a thorough physical examination. A check for abscesses and lumps can also be part of the examination.12

Medical history and symptom assessment

The healthcare professional shall examine the individual's medical history, including any previous cases of mastitis or breast-related problems. It should also be possible to facilitate the diagnosis by providing information on breastfeeding practices, where appropriate. Patients' reported symptoms such as chest pain, fever, chills and flu-like symptoms will be carefully considered. In order to identify accurately, it is important that the symptoms are clearly communicated about their nature and duration.12

Laboratory tests

For lactating mothers, a sample of breast milk may be collected for analysis. The presence of bacteria can also help to distinguish between infection and non-infective mastitis, with the aid of this and blood analysis.

The diagnosis of mastitis is typically straightforward, especially when the individual is presenting with classic symptoms and has a history of breastfeeding. However, it is crucial to exclude other potential causes of breast pain or inflammation, such as a breast abscess or other breast conditions. The healthcare provider will then advise an adequate treatment plan as soon as a final diagnosis has been established.

For this to be diagnosed as mastitis, the expertise of an expert in medicine is required. Do not hesitate to consult a doctor at once, if you are concerned about the possible presence of mastitis or any other symptoms. An earlier diagnosis and intervention is likely to result in a quicker recovery while avoiding possible complications.12

Treatment options


The doctor may prescribe some antibiotics, the doctor will also advise if it is safe to breastfeed while on the said medication or not.13

Pain relief measures

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) can be prescribed for symptom management.13

Continuing breastfeeding or pumping

Regular breastfeeding ensures proper drainage and thus prevents infection. If the mother decides to wean the child and does not want to continue breastfeeding, pumping would be the ideal solution for avoiding blocked ducts until lactation stops.14

Abscess drainage (in severe cases)

A drainage of an abscess may be needed if a breast abscess has been suspected or proven. The patient will be supervised by a healthcare provider during the course of treatment, monitored for progress and provided with any required follow-up.12

Prevention and self-care

It is important to take proactive measures in order to prevent mastitis, especially for those at higher risk and who have previously experienced the disease. Below are some useful self-care measures which may help prevent the development of mastitis:7

Proper breastfeeding techniques

In order to prevent blocked milk ducts, it is important to ensure that a proper breastfeeding technique is used. If necessary, to ensure a good latch and optimum position for breastfeeding, please seek the advice of a lactation consultant or healthcare expert.

Ensuring complete milk drainage

The prevention of milk duct blockage may be facilitated by frequent breastfeeding sessions, as well as ensuring that every breast is thoroughly emptied during feeding. It may be beneficial to avoid lengthy periods of delay in feeding.

Manage engrogement

Gently massaging the breasts and applying warm compresses before feeding may help to soften breast tissue and facilitate milk flow in cases of breast engorgement.

Good breast hygiene

It can help to avoid bacterial infection through cracked or damaged skin by keeping the nipples and surrounding area clean and dry.

Comfortable clothing

Wearing a comfortable and supportive bra can help reduce breast discomfort.

Rest, hydration, and healthy lifestyle

The immune system may be impaired and the individual is more at risk for infections as a result of prolonged stress. It can be beneficial to engage in activities that reduce stress, such as yoga or meditation. It is important to treat any discomfort or damage of the nipple promptly if this occurs during breastfeeding. Nipple shields or breastfeeding breaks can provide relief and prevent further complications. Staying well-hydrated is important for overall health, including breast health.1

Overall breast health can be improved by maintaining a good balanced diet and resting, boosting the immune system's capacity for fighting infections. For non-lactating individuals, avoiding smoking or quitting if already a smoker can reduce the risk of developing non-lactational mastitis.

Complications and medical help

Abscess formation

One of the most significant complications of untreated mastitis is the development of a breast abscess. There's a localised collection of pus in the breast tissue called an abscess. This may be very painful, with the affected breast becoming swollen, red or warm to the touch. If you suspect a breast abscess, immediate medical attention is necessary. Drain abscesses and prescribed antibiotics may be part of the treatment.

Recurrent or chronic mastitis

Periodic episodes of mastitis may occur in some individuals. In this case, it is essential to cooperate closely with a healthcare professional in identifying the underlying causes and implementing preventive strategies aimed at reducing the risk of further occurrences.

When to seek medical attention

In order to significantly improve the outcome of mastitis treatment and reduce the risk for complications, a patient should seek prompt medical attention. Don't hesitate to consult your doctor for expert guidance and individual care, if you have any questions or concerns about mastitis or breast health. Your health and well-being are of utmost importance, and seeking appropriate medical help is a vital step in ensuring your recovery and continued breast health.


In conclusion, mastitis is an inflammatory condition primarily affecting breast tissue and commonly occurs in lactating individuals, especially those who are breastfeeding. People who are not lactating may also experience this, albeit at a lesser rate. In order to avoid complications and to promote a rapid recovery, early detection and prompt medical assistance are essential. It is important to seek medical attention immediately if you experience symptoms such as breast pain, redness, tenderness, fever, or flu symptoms. Prevention plays a vital role in reducing the risk of mastitis.

When seeking medical help, the healthcare professional may prescribe antibiotics, pain relievers, or, in severe cases, perform abscess drainage. In order to support the healing and production of milk, continuous breastfeeding is also advised although mastitis occurs. Although mastitis may cause distress, the condition is usually manageable with appropriate care and support.

Working closely with a health care provider to identify the underlying causes and implement precautionary measures is appropriate in case of recurrence of mastitis or any further concerns.


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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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Ayesha Jamil

Bachelors of Biomedical Sciences with Honors - University of Nottingham, Malaysia

Ayesha is a passionate graduate who is highly motivated to do her best in all that she tries. functioning in a multicultural university society on campus, she has developed many skills including communication, leadership skills, and developed a strong work ethic to name a few while in university.

She was the course representative for all three of her academic years working closely with the teaching and management staff to ensure the needs and voices of her fellow students were heard as well as the implementation of any new protocol for the students that may have been introduced for them.

She has also undertaken many key roles as well as been a part of the volunteering fellows. She has taken another step towards the future by undertaking an internship with Klarity as a writer for medical articles.

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