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What is mastitis?

Have you noticed how nearly every mastitis page has the same content. Well we’re going to make a difference in your understanding so you don’t have to keep trawling to get an understanding of what mastitis is.

Firstly, mastitis by definition from the World Health Organization (WHO) is:

Mastitis is an inflammatory condition of the breast, which may or may not be accompanied by infection.

It’s often caused by milk stasis, that is a blockage in a milk duct, or some physical impact on the natural flow of fluid do the duct.  The pressure that builds up in the duct causes milk to disperse into neighbouring breast tissue which is what triggers the inflammatory reaction of mastitis.

So secondly, mastitis is NOT in the milk duct itself as many people will tell you. The process occurs outside the duct, inflaming the tissue surrounding the primary causal area.

It’s kind of like when a valley is dammed and the water that was once going down rivers and creeks has no where to go and starts to flood the neighbouring land. That water has moved to somewhere is is not designed to be, the result being inflammation.

mastitis inflammation | mastitis infection | what is mastitis

Symptoms of mastitis:

Mastitis symptoms can vary person to person.

  • early stages are flu-like aches and pains, fever and chills.
  • pink to flaming-hot red colour on the skin
  • painful area of the breast
  • skin may be shiny and taut
  • feeling solid in the breast, can be just one region
  • often painful to move the arm on the affected side
  • feeling unwell or ill

Some mothers do not experience early symptoms and actually feel they have been hit-by-a-truck all of a sudden.

A mastitis affected breast will feel painful to a greater degree than a blocked duct experience.  Mastitis causes you to feel quite unwell and this is a common symptom that may develop fast and put you flat on your back for a few days.

Common causes of mastitis:

  • blocked milk duct
  • difficulties emptying the breast
  • tight tops or bras that are compressing a duct with a seam or wire
  • nipple damage
  • long stints of time between breastfeeding
  • poor ability of your body to drain your breast tissue from a musculoskeletal cause ie posture or shoulder injury/pain
  • baby latching issues ie tongue-tie
  • abrupt end to breastfeeding

What can I do?

It’s important to begin treatment as early as you suspect mastitis.

Drain the breast:

This includes draining the breast to begin with,  either by baby or using a pump.  The milk is safe for your baby to consume so please don’t worry! If you struggle to get much milk out while you have mastitis, this is actually common.  Your clever body knows your breast is sick and will not overload a troubled breast with making-more milk. Your body is trying to take care of you.

Another important fact is that your milk will taste salty with mastitis and so your baby may refuse you. babies love sweet milk. but don’t worry, once you’re over the mastitis, your milk will return it’s sweet taste. It’s just the chemistry associated with the mastitis inflammation.


Massage can be very help to treat yourself but please massage you breast gently, it is very sensitive and delicate tissue. Use a pressure of about 5-10% and a lubricant can be helpful. It can be lovely to massage your breast in a warm shower, letting the shower water vibrate the breast tissue as you work to relieve the lump.

To learn more about massage, we have an online education platform called Your Two Jugs, with dedicated course in breast massage for mastitis. Check it out here.

Warmth or cold?

You can actually use either. Some women feel relief for cold, some for warmth. Go with your gut feel and test out both options. Just be careful with heat that you don’t make it so hot that you injure your skin. 

Cabbage leaves are a common thought and there is some literature on it.  The main thing that has been noted about the cabbage leaf is that the relief seems to be from the leaf being cool from the fridge and a lovely soft shape that molds to your breast. If you feel it helps, go right ahead.

Pain relief:

It is always best to check with your Doctor or pharmacist when it comes to medication. Many women find paracetemol a good option but please speak with someone about this.


An incredibly important, under-estimated part of mastitis recovery. Please, reduce your activity, get help from friends or family if you can, and lie down.

You could also try:

  • meditation
  • getting to bed earlier
  • and don’t underestimate physical stress so reduce housework and physical activity as best you can

Fatigue is going to reduce milk to help you get well first before milk becomes a body priority again…clever body!

Stress relief:

Stress & anxiety are known to be contributing factors for mastitis episodes. If you feel this could be you, please get the right help to assist you in reducing the impact of stress & anxiety.  This may include speaking to:

  • family or friends
  • lactation consultant (IBCLC)
  • maternal health nurse
  • midwife
  • psychologist

If you are genuinely feeling overwhelmed, please get some help early.

Antibiotics and Mastitis:

If you’ve been prescribed anti-biotics then please finish the whole course.  You can also take a pro-biotic such as Qiara to not only assist your gut health but there is also some data on the positive impact Qiara has had with mastitis.

Tight clothes and bras:

If you have clothing that is too tight over a duct, it can impede the flow of milk which may be what has caused your mastitis.  Check what you were wearing in the last couple of days to determine if clothes may be the issue.  Look for tight line/seams the run across the breast leaving a mark or indent.

Ultrasound therapy:

See an experienced practitioner for ultrasound therapy to jiggle the mastitis affected area with therapeutic ultrasound.

mastitis ultrasound | ultrasound for mastitis | blocked duct

If you need treatment for your mastitis then give us a call on 9859 5059 or book online via the button below.

Mastitis | breast pain | blocked duct

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