BabyFeedingMastitis and Common Breastfeeding Ailments

Mastitis and Common Breastfeeding Ailments

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Is it Mastitis, Thrush, or Something Else?

Even when everything is going well, breastfeeding is a huge commitment and a lot of work. This means when you experience pain, redness, or other abnormal symptoms while breastfeeding, feeding your baby can feel almost impossible.

Mastitis and thrush are two common breastfeeding-related conditions that can cause discomfort and pain. While they can have similar symptoms, they are caused by different factors and require different treatments. Understanding the difference between mastitis and thrush can help breastfeeding mothers get the right treatment and avoid complications.


Mastitis is a bacterial infection that occurs when milk ducts become blocked, causing the breast tissue to become inflamed and painful. It usually affects only one breast and can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and body aches, in addition to breast pain and swelling.

Mastitis is most common in the first few weeks after giving birth, when milk production is still increasing and milk ducts can become blocked more easily.


Thrush is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the breast or nipple area. It can cause itching, burning, and shooting pain in the breast, and may also cause nipple pain and redness. Thrush can occur in both breasts and is more common in women who have a history of vaginal yeast infections or who have recently taken antibiotics.

What’s the Difference?

While mastitis and thrush can have similar symptoms, there are a few key differences between the two conditions. Mastitis typically causes more severe breast pain and swelling, and flu-like symptoms are common. In contrast, thrush may cause more intense nipple pain and itching, and symptoms may improve temporarily after breastfeeding, only to return shortly thereafter.


Another difference between the two conditions is the treatment. Mastitis is usually treated with antibiotics, while thrush is treated with antifungal medications. If you are diagnosed with mastitis, it’s important to complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if symptoms improve before the medication is finished. If you are diagnosed with thrush, both you and your baby may need to be treated with antifungal medications to prevent the infection from recurring.

If you suspect you may have mastitis or thrush, you should seek medical advice to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. In some cases, untreated mastitis or thrush can lead to more serious complications, such as an abscess or chronic breast pain.

Other Causes of Breastfeeding Pain

  • Poor Latch: A proper latch is crucial for successful breastfeeding. If your baby isn’t latching correctly, it can cause pain and discomfort for you. A poor latch may result in sore, cracked, or bleeding nipples. It’s important to ensure that your baby is latching onto the areola, not just the nipple, and that their mouth covers a large portion of the areola to prevent nipple trauma.
  • Engorgement: Engorgement occurs when the breasts become overly full and swollen with milk, causing discomfort and pain. It can make breastfeeding more challenging as your baby may have difficulty latching onto the breast. Engorgement can be caused by factors such as oversupply of milk, missed feedings or ineffective milk removal. Applying warm compresses, expressing a little milk before feeding, and using different breastfeeding positions can help relieve engorgement.
  • Nipple Vasospasm: Nipple vasospasm is a condition where the blood vessels in the nipples constrict, leading to reduced blood flow and causing pain, tingling, and discoloration of the nipples. This condition can be triggered by factors such as cold weather, poor latch, or trauma to the nipples. Keeping your nipples warm, using warm compresses, and improving latch technique can help alleviate nipple vasospasm.
  • Breast Anatomy: Sometimes the shape or size of the breasts can affect breastfeeding comfort. For example, inverted nipples, excessively large or small breasts, or breast asymmetry can make breastfeeding challenging and cause discomfort or pain. Consulting with a lactation consultant or healthcare provider can provide guidance on proper positioning and techniques to improve breastfeeding comfort.
  • Other Factors: Other factors such as sensitive skin, previous breast surgeries, hormonal changes, or existing medical conditions like eczema or dermatitis can also contribute to breastfeeding pain. Identifying and addressing these underlying causes may require medical intervention or personalized care from a healthcare professional.

Overall, breastfeeding should be a positive and enjoyable experience for both you and your baby and addressing breastfeeding pain sooner than later can help promote a successful and fulfilling breastfeeding journey.

Read our series on breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Basics Guide

Breast Pumping Tips

Four Breastfeeding Positions

Breastfeeding for Working Moms

Breastfeeding Mastitis, Thrush and Common Ailments

Written by

Abigail Purcell, RN
Abigail Purcell, RN
Abigail is one of our expert writers and is a BSN, RN (Registered Nurse) with a wide range of experience. She has worked in Public Health, Medical-Surgical nursing, and, most recently, Paediatrics and Women’s Health. Her true passion is serving mothers and families by helping them navigate their healthcare. As a nurse writer, Abby enjoys being able to empower patients on a larger scale, using evidence-based information that is easy to access and understand.


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