The breastfeeding mother in hospital

Mastitis & Breast Abscess

For general information about making a diagnosis of mastitis, see the GP Infant Feeding Network page. The NICE Clinical Knowledge Summary makes it clear that both parent and infant should be admitted together if admission is indicated for mastitis or breast abscess, to allow continuation of breastfeeding as part of the treatment process. The parent should be advised to continue breastfeeding if possible (including from the affected breast). A breastfeeding specialist should be involved to assist in improving the infant's attachment to the breast, improving milk removal and preventing further nipple damage. If breastfeeding is too painful, or the infant refuses to breastfeed from the affected breast, the parent should be advised to express the milk (by hand or with a breast pump) until they are able to resume breastfeeding from that breast.

Many NHS settings admit those needing admission for mastitis-related sepsis, or breast abscess, to postnatal wards rather than general surgery wards, which will improve their lactation-specific care and facilities.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has a protocol for breast masses, breast complaints and diagnostic breast imaging in the lactating person

Other breastfeeding problems presenting to the emergency department

Parents may occasionally come to the Emergency Department with other breastfeeding related problems such as pain. See the NICE Clinical Knowledge Summary for more information. 

Admission for other reasons

When a lactating parent is admitted to hospital for any reason, health professionals need to be aware of their specific needs. If breastfeeding ceases suddenly they will be at risk of pain and mastitis, particularly when the infant is exclusively breastfed. Where at all possible breastfeeding should be supported to continue with the help of an additional carer to take responsibility for the infant while the parent is unwell. Some NHS settings have policies that all breastfeeding parents should be supported to be admitted with their babies (join our facebook group to discuss this further). If this is not possible then expressing milk will reduce discomfort and risk of mastitis, as well as providing milk for the infant or child.

The parent may hand express if a pump is unavailable or that is their preference. See a video on hand expressing technique here. Electric pumps are often available from maternity settings, children's wards or the emergency department. Those who aren't used to expressing may find it difficult to get 'let-down' (milk ejection) for a pump or via hand expressing. Warming the breast may help, for example hand expressing in a shower, or looking at photos and videos of the baby and smelling objects belonging to the baby. Maternity infant feeding teams may be able to offer support to those admitted on general wards.

It should also be noted that it may be very difficult for an exclusively breastfed baby to suddenly feed by another route. When milk is expressed to provide milk for the infant or child, it should be stored correctly (see advice here), and transported efficiently.

We have a downloadable poster that may be helpful to educate staff on these issues.

Medication and lactation

See separate page on medication and breastfeeding, including contrast agents and anaesthetics

And a word from the families...

See Gina, Jennifer & Jennett's stories, and this summary of a parent-led qualitative research problem:


Thank you for visiting the Hospital Infant Feeding Network. This website is a repository of relevant knowledge and best practice resources for health professionals. To join the conversation, ask questions and share your experiences please join us on Facebook or Twitter.


We will be running Q&A sessions on various topics, which will be advertised on our social media sites. Please email if you have ideas or want to get more involved. We welcome health professionals passionate about supporting breastfeeding and lactation in the hospital setting to join our steering group, please get in contact if this is you!

You may have noticed that we use 'additive' language on our website to refer to lactation and human milk feeding. This means that we might refer to 'breastfeeding/chestfeeding'. Chestfeeding is a term that some non-binary people use to refer to feeding their child at the chest if the word breast is not congruent with their gender identity. Using additive language helps reduce a feeling of exclusion for non-binary and transgender people, without taking away from the importance of words like breastfeeding and mother. There is a much more detailed description of the additive approach here.

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