Breast Engorgement vs. Mastitis: How to Tell the Difference

Breast Engorgement vs. Mastitis: How to Tell the Difference

Breastfeeding has numerous benefits for both the mother and the baby. However, it is not always an easy task, and sometimes, mothers may experience some breastfeeding complications. One such complication is breast engorgement, which can lead to mastitis if not appropriately addressed. In this article, we will explore the differences between breast engorgement and mastitis and how to tell the difference.

What is Breast Engorgement?

Breast engorgement is a common breastfeeding issue where the breasts become overly full of milk, causing discomfort and pain. New mothers may experience engorgement when their breast milk comes in, usually two to three days after giving birth, but it can also occur later in breastfeeding.

During engorgement, the breasts may feel swollen, hard, painful, and hot due to an imbalanced supply and demand. This is because breast milk production continues, and milk accumulates in the breast when the baby is not latching frequently enough or not effectively removing milk during feeding.

How to Treat Breast Engorgement?

The best way to treat breast engorgement is prompt and frequent breastfeeding. Ensure the baby latches well and drains the breast as much as possible, alternating between breasts during feeding, and allowing the baby to nurse as often as they can handle. Using a warm compress or taking a warm shower before breastfeeding can help stimulate milk letdown and soften the breast tissue.

It is essential to avoid skipping feedings or excessively using a breast pump as this can exacerbate engorgement. Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can help relieve the pain and inflammation that accompany breast engorgement.

What is Mastitis?

Mastitis refers to breast inflammation, which may be caused by bacteria entering the milk ducts through a sore or cracked nipple or stagnant milk causing milk stasis. It is a bacterial infection that can cause a range of symptoms such as fever, body aches, chills, and flu-like symptoms.

Mastitis affects a small percentage of breastfeeding mothers, but for those who experience it, prompt treatment is crucial to avoid complications such as abscessed breast tissue.

How to Treat Mastitis?

To treat mastitis, mothers should seek prompt medical attention from their health care professionals who can prescribe an appropriate antibiotic to address the bacterial infection. In addition, breastfeeding should continue to ensure that the milk drains appropriately, reducing the risk of abscess formation.

Warm compresses, massaging the breasts to express milk, and plenty of rest can help manage symptoms such as breast pain and fever. It is important to stay hydrated and well-nourished to aid in recovery.

How to Tell the Difference Between Breast Engorgement and Mastitis?

While breast engorgement and mastitis share similar symptoms such as breast pain, swelling, and tenderness, there are a few distinguishing factors to help differentiate between the two. Mastitis often presents with additional symptoms such as fever, flu-like symptoms, and a general feeling of being unwell.

In contrast, engorgement usually occurs within the first few weeks of breastfeeding, while mastitis can manifest at any time throughout the breastfeeding journey. Engorgement usually responds well to frequent breastfeeding, while mastitis requires medical intervention, such as antibiotics, to address the bacterial infection.


Breastfeeding has numerous benefits for both the mother and baby, but it can be challenging, and breastfeeding complications such as breast engorgement and mastitis can occur. Prompt and appropriate treatment is essential to avoid complications such as abscess formation. Mothers should seek medical attention promptly if they experience symptoms of mastitis, including fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms. Frequent breastfeeding and warm compresses can help alleviate engorgement and prevent further complications.

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