Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness of the breast. If you have mastitis, you might also experience fever and chills. Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breast-feeding (lactation mastitis), although sometimes this condition can occur in women who aren't breast-feeding.

In most cases, lactation mastitis occurs within the first three months after giving birth (postpartum), but it can happen later during breast-feeding. The condition can leave you feeling exhausted and run-down, making it difficult to care for your baby.

Sometimes mastitis leads a mother to wean her baby before she intends to. But you can continue breast-feeding while you have mastitis.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

With mastitis, signs and symptoms can appear suddenly and may include:

  • Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
  • Generally feeling ill (malaise)
  • Swelling of the breast
  • Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
  • Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
  • Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or greater

Although mastitis usually occurs in the first several weeks of breast-feeding, it can happen anytime during breast-feeding. Lactation mastitis tends to affect only one breast — not both breasts.

When to see a doctor

In most cases, you'll feel ill with flu-like symptoms for several hours before you recognize that there's a sore red area on one of your breasts. As soon as you recognize this combination of signs and symptoms, it's time to contact your doctor.

Your doctor will probably want to see you to confirm the diagnosis. Oral antibiotics are usually very effective in treating this condition. If you've had mastitis before, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics over the phone. If your signs and symptoms don't improve after the first two days of taking antibiotics, see your doctor right away to make sure your condition isn't the result of a more serious problem.

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