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Feeling unwell with a sore, red breast or damaged nipples? 

sick mother

Mastitis (inflammation of the breast tissue) can develop if localised breast inflammation is not treated promptly.

If you have mastitis, you will usually feel unwell and may have a sore, firm or red area on your breast. There may or may not be an infection.

Engorgement, damaged nipples or overfull breasts can lead to mastitis. 

Do I have mastitis?

  • You may have flu-like symptoms such as a fever, chills or fast heart rate.   

  • Part of your breast may look red and swollen. The skin may be shiny or have red streaks.   

  • Your breast may feel hot and painful.   

Sometimes mastitis can come on quickly. You may not have noticed the early signs of breast inflammation. Feeling unwell may be your first symptom.  

See a doctor if you don't start to feel better (or get worse) within 12 to 24 hours, or sooner if you feel very unwell. Mastitis which is left untreated may become a breast abscess.


Preventing mastitis

Things to do: 

  • Make sure your baby is positioned and attached well to help them remove milk easily.  
  • Allow your baby to feed for as long and as often as they want to. If your nipples feel sore you can take your baby off the breast as soon as they stop sucking and swallowing or fall to sleep. 
  • Treat sore or damaged nipples promptly. 
  • Start each feed on alternate breasts to ensure milk is removed from both breasts often. 
  • If one or both breasts become uncomfortably full, you can wake your baby and offer a feed.  
  • If your baby is not feeding well at the breast, you can express to replace missed breastfeeds. 
  • You may be more likely to get mastitis if you are “run down”. Resting, drinking to your thirst and eating nutritious foods may help. 
  • If you are weaning, try to do it gradually, reducing breastfeeds over several weeks. 
  • Avoid expressing extra breastmilk if your baby is feeding well at the breast. 
  • Don’t give your baby any other fluids except your breastmilk, unless medically advised. 

Managing mastitis

Start treatment as soon as you notice a lump, sore spot or red area on your breast. Early treatment will help you to feel less ill and get better faster. 

There are several things you can try at home to reduce inflammation and help keep the milk moving. 

© Australian Breastfeeding Association February 2023

Read more about breast and nipple care

Evidence-led info and practical tips from our Breastfeeding Information Series

Breastfeeding: Breast and nipple care

Breast and nipple care booklet
  • Deng, Y., Huang, Y., Ning, P., Ma, S. G., He, P. Y., & Wang, Y. (2021). Maternal risk factors for lactation mastitis: A meta-analysis. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 43(7), 698–708.  
  • Lai, B. Y., Yu, B. W., Chu, A. J., Liang, S. B., Jia, L. Y., Liu, J. P., Fan, Y. Y., & Pei, X. H. (2021). Risk factors for lactation mastitis in China: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS One, 16(5), e0251182. 
  • Mitchell, K. B., Johnson, H. M., Rodríguez, J. M., Eglash, A., Scherzinger, C., Zakarija-Grkovic, I., Cash, K. W., Berens, P., Miller, B., & Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (2022). Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine clinical protocol #36: The mastitis spectrum, revised 2022. Breastfeeding Medicine, 17(5), 360–376.  
  • Shalev Ram, H., Ram, S., Wiser, I., Tchernin, N., Chodick, G., Cohen, Y., & Rofe, G. (2022). Associations between breast implants and postpartum lactational mastitis in breastfeeding women: Retrospective study. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 129(2), 267–272. 
  • Wilson, E., Wood, S. L., & Benova, L. (2020). Incidence of and risk factors for lactational mastitis: A systematic review. Journal of Human Lactation, 36(4), 673–686.