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Painful Breastfeeding Could be a Sign of Mastitis

Written by Kathryn Wright, M.D. on Apr 21, 2018 8:50:00 AM

Issues surrounding breastfeeding are some of the most common questions I get from new mamas. This is something they’ve never done before and are unsure of how it should feel, whether or not it’s being done correctly, and what it could mean when their breasts feel different. For example, breastfeeding isn’t necessarily the most comfortable practice a new mom has ever done. So when breastfeeding is painful, some moms think that’s just how it goes, when a lot of times, painful breastfeeding is a sign of mastitis. 

Infection Caused By Blocked Milk Duct

Mastitis is an infection in the breast tissue. Like other infections, it often causes pain, redness, swelling, and warmth in the affected area, and can also cause fever and chills. It typically occurs in breastfeeding moms during the first six to 12 weeks after giving birth. Usually, mastitis is caused by a blocked milk duct. The milk behind the blockage backs up into the breast tissue causing pain and tenderness – sometimes, bacteria is present as well. 

Symptoms of Mastitis

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If you have mastitis, chances are you’ll have flu-like symptoms and notice tenderness in your breast, especially when breastfeeding. You might have a fever and feel achy. Your breast will likely be red (typically in a wedge shape), possibly swollen, warm to the touch, and tender. You may also notice red streaks in your breast where the infection is occurring. Breastfeeding will likely be painful. As soon as you notice these symptoms, it’s time to go to your doctor. Like any infection, it’s important that you get mastitis taken care of quickly. 

What Can I do to Get Better?

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If your doctor determines that you have a bacterial infection, he or she will likely prescribe oral antibiotics to get the infection under control. Apart from that, there are several self-care tips you can try at home that may help relieve some of the pain, discomfort and blockage: 

  • Keep your breasts drained – this is the most important thing you can do. Feed gently and more often than you would normally feed. Let your baby feed from the affected breast first. Make sure to let them feed from the other breast as well, because neglecting the healthy breast can cause the infection to occur in the healthy breast. If your baby won’t feed, hand express.
  • Massage the affected breast gently. This can help to unblock the duct.
  • Apply cold packs. Cold can help alleviate both swelling and pain.
  • Apply heat in small doses. Cold will probably be your most effective ally in feeling better, but applying heat in small doses, for about five minutes before each feeding, can help clear the blockage. Besides warm water bottles, you can also try getting into a warm shower, using a warm hand towel or face cloth or immersing your breasts in a basin of warm water.
  • See your doctor. Don’t neglect to do this – if the infection is bacterial, you’ll likely need antibiotics to make sure it gets better. 

As with any medical condition, if you have any question or concern, make an appointment with your physician immediately.

Wright_Kathryn Dr. Wright is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Summer Creek Clinic in Humble. Child obesity, newborn care and ADHD are among her top clinical interests. Being around kids makes every day at work fun for her.



Topics: blocked milk duct, mastitis

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