Mastitis is when your breast becomes swollen, hot and painful. It is most common in breastfeeding women.

We've put together some useful information to help you prevent mastitis and the steps you should take if you think you have mastitis.


How you can prevent mastitis?

To prevent mastitis at any time of the year, you should breastfeed frequently. This is especially important if you have young babies.

  • Plan to pump or express milk if you'll have prolonged periods of separation from your babies. Remember to watch your breasts for engorgement and promptly feed your babies or pump/express if they feel too full.
  • Look for early indicators that your babies are hungry. Typical cues include putting their hands in their mouths, heads turning to look for the breast, etc. Crying is a late indicator of hunger.
  • Don’t try to prolong feeding, especially with young infants.
  • Don’t try to do everything yourself (if possible); delegate jobs at home or at work so that you can get the feeding routine right.
  • Also, avoid sleeping on your stomach and avoid wearing tight, constricting clothes or bras.


The camera looks down on a mother who is breastfeeding one baby whilst another sits on the sofa next to her


What can cause mastitis?
  • Going too long between feeds.
  • The over-use of a dummy to stretch out feeds whilst carrying out other activities such as cooking or shopping.
  • Using other methods to feed your babies in public if you would normally breastfeed.
  • Being away from your babies for longer than normal periods and not pumping or using hand expression to relieve the pressure in your breasts.


What are the physical signs of mastitis?
  • Chills, a headache, flu-like symptoms or a fever over 38 degrees.
  • A painful swelling or hard area in your breast that is not going down after feeding or pumping.
  • A tender or painful area on your breast that is hot to the touch.
  • On darker skin tones you might see a darkening of the skin or on lighter skin tones you might see a red area or red streaks, that radiate over your entire breast or large parts of it. However, there may not be a visible change in skin colour.
  • Your babies being reluctant or refusing the feed on the affected side.


What should I do if I have mastitis?

Thankfully, most cases of mastitis can be resolved at home. Firstly, try to get plenty of rest (if possible!), eat healthy foods and stay hydrated. Ask for help if you need to.

Sleep without a bra and consider wearing loose fitting bras during the day. Ensure you massage your breasts and alternate between cool compresses and warmth (such a shower).

Do continue to breastfeed responsively and/or hand express or pump to your normal routine. Take ibuprofen to reduce inflammation - this is safe to take when breastfeeding.


When should I see a doctor about mastitis?

You should call your doctor if you feel worse instead of better after 24 hours or have got rapidly worse with a fever over 38 degrees.


Mastitis and the festive period

Cases of mastitis typically rise over the festive season and healthcare services can be more difficult to access. At this time of year you may stretch feeds or bottle feed because of family gatherings or other activities such as Christmas shopping. You may also be away from your babies for longer periods than normal, for example because of hosting a party and family or friends holding your babies, or preparing for a gathering and not hand expressing or pumping instead.


Further support

Our Breastfeeding Peer Support Scheme has a group of mothers of twins and triplets who have all breastfed their babies and are trained and NCT-accredited to support other mothers on their feeding journeys. They can offer support via email, phone or text. Please note that the Peer Supporters are all volunteers and they will aim to get back to you within 48 hours.

For urgent support please contact your health professional or the NCT Feeding Line on 0300 330 0700 (option 1), which is open every day 8am to midnight including bank holidays.