Mastitis is an inflammation or infection of the breast tissue that causes breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness in one or both breasts. While it can affect anyone, it is much more prevalent in breastfeeding women and usually occurs in the first few weeks of breastfeeding. Common causes include oversupply of milk, blocked milk ducts, infection, and injury to the breast tissue. 

Blocked ducts is a condition that refers to a blockage of the ducts that carry milk to the nipple for breastfeeding. Early intervention – such as home strategies, advice for feeding, and exercise to promote lymph drainage, and therapeutic ultrasound with a women’s health physio – is key with this condition because it prevents engorgement and infective mastitis by clearing the blockage

Symptoms of Mastitis and Blocked Milk Ducts

The most common symptoms are:

  • A swollen, red and shiny, or tender breast
  • Pain while breastfeeding
  • Flu-like symptoms including fever & chills 
  • Firm mass or lumpy breast area. 

How we Diagnose Mastitis and Blocked Milk Ducts

At your initial consultation, our healthcare professionals will discuss your symptoms and explore possible risk factors of mastitis or blocked milk ducts. We may:

  • Talk to you about your medical history, lifestyle, and other factors that might contribute to mastitis or blocked milk ducts
  • Check the breast for other possible causes of your symptoms
  • Recommend additional tests or review with your GP.

How to Manage Mastitis and Blocked Milk Ducts at Home

You may be able to manage mastitis and blocked milk ducts with home strategies. With this condition, it is important and safe for you to continue to breastfeed your baby and aim to drain the breast during a feed.

You can help the process by gently self-massaging towards the nipple during feeding. If the breast is not fully drained at the end of the feed, you can express the remaining milk via hand expression or using a breast pump. Ensure your baby has latched on correctly and see a lactation consultant if you are unsure, or if you have recurring blocked ducts.

Strategies for home that may help include:

  • Changing breastfeeding strategies

Sometimes a simple change to the breastfeeding position can assist the blockage, by pointing your chin towards the blockage or lying on your side. Or you could alternate which breast you start a feed from.

  • Applying heat or cold compresses to the breast tissue

You can ease symptoms with heat by using a warm flannel or having a hot bath or shower before feeding to encourage letdown. A cold pack after feeding can help reduce pain and inflammation of the breast.

  • Wearing more comfortable clothing

Avoid a tight-fitting bra or clothing that puts pressure on the breast tissue.

  • Over-the-counter painkillers and probiotics
    Painkillers including ibuprofen or paracetamol, and probiotics to counter the effect of antibiotics can also help

Treatment for Mastitis and Blocked Milk Ducts

Depending on your presentation, we can recommend a range of treatments for mastitis and blocked milk ducts, alongside providing education on home-based management strategies. Massage can help lymph drainage and relieve milk duct blockage, while therapeutic ultrasound therapy encourages circulation and reduces inflammation. In most cases of blocked ducts, symptoms can be resolved in fewer than four short sessions. 

If the redness and/or flu-like symptoms persist however, with or without a fever, we may refer you to your GP for further assessment and a possible course of antibiotics.

If you have breast pain, please book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists today. Our team is here to help!