BACKGROUND: Mastitis is one of the most common problems experienced by women who are breastfeeding. Mastitis is an inflammation of breast tissue, which may or may not result from infection. The aims of this paper are to compare rates of mastitis in primiparous women receiving public hospital care (standard or birth centre) and care in a co-located private hospital, and to use multivariate analysis to explore other factors related to mastitis. METHODS: Data from two studies (a randomised controlled trial [RCT] and a survey) have been combined. The RCT (Attachment to the Breast and Family Attitudes to Breastfeeding, ABFAB) which was designed to test whether breastfeeding education in mid-pregnancy could increase breastfeeding duration recruited public patients at the Royal Women's Hospital at 18-20 weeks gestation. A concurrent survey recruited women planning to give birth in the Family Birth Centre (at 36 weeks gestation) and women in the postnatal wards of Frances Perry House (private hospital). All women were followed up by telephone at 6 months postpartum. Mastitis was defined as at least 2 breast symptoms (pain, redness or lump) AND at least one of fever or flu-like symptoms. RESULTS: The 6 month telephone interview was completed by 1193 women. Breastfeeding rates at 6 months were 77% in Family Birth Centre, 63% in Frances Perry House and 53% in ABFAB. Seventeen percent (n = 206) of women experienced mastitis. Family Birth Centre and Frances Perry House women were more likely to develop mastitis (23% and 24%) than women in ABFAB (15%); adjusted odds ratio (Adj OR) ~1.9. Most episodes occurred in the first 4 weeks postpartum: 53% (194/365). Nipple damage was also associated with mastitis (Adj OR 1.7, 95% CI, 1.14, 2.56). We found no association between breastfeeding duration and mastitis. CONCLUSION: The prevention and improved management of nipple damage could potentially reduce the risk of lactating women developing mastitis. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Trial registration (ABFAB): Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN21556494.