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Lactational mastitis

J Michael Dixon, MD
Section Editors
Anees B Chagpar, MD, MSc, MA, MPH, MBA, FACS, FRCS(C)
Daniel J Sexton, MD
Deputy Editors
Elinor L Baron, MD, DTMH
Kristen Eckler, MD, FACOG


Lactational mastitis is a condition in which a woman's breast becomes painful, swollen, and red; it is most common in the first three months of breastfeeding. Initially, engorgement occurs because of poor milk drainage, probably related to nipple trauma with resultant swelling and compression of one or more milk ducts. If symptoms persist beyond 12 to 24 hours, the condition of infective lactational mastitis develops (since breast milk contains bacteria); this is characterized by pain, redness, fever, and malaise [1].

Issues related to lactational mastitis will be reviewed here. Issues related to other breast infections are discussed separately. (See "Nonlactational mastitis in adults" and "Primary breast abscess" and "Breast cellulitis and other skin disorders of the breast".)


Lactational mastitis has been estimated to occur in 2 to 10 percent of breastfeeding women [2]. The incidence of mastitis requiring hospitalization is low; in one cohort including 136,459 new mothers, 127 women were hospitalized for mastitis, an incidence of 9 per 10,000 deliveries [3].

The risk of recurrence of mastitis in women with prior history of lactational mastitis is higher than in women with no prior history.


Lactational mastitis often occurs in the setting of the following breastfeeding problems, which typically result in prolonged engorgement or poor drainage [4]:

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jul 21, 2017.
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