Mastitis, once experienced, is feared by any nursing mother.
Mastitis is by definition a breast infection and symptoms can include redness, pain, swelling, a lump, heat, streaking redness on the surface of the skin that extends out from the painful area, and fever and lethargy. Mastitis is painful and just feels awful.
Mastitis can be easily confused with a plugged duct. (Read here for a clear breakdown of the difference between a plugged duct and mastitis.) A plugged duct can quickly turn into mastitis so these remedies can be used as a preventative measure for women who are dealing with a plugged duct and hope to prevent a more serious infection.
The description of mastitis alone would make you want to avoid it at all costs. Incidence of mastitis is estimated to be around 20% in the first six months of breastfeeding.
Because mastitis and plugged ducts are such unpleasant events in a woman’s life, we asked our doulas and childbirth educators what they had found worked best for them and their clients. This is not intended to be medical advice so please check with your care provider before you proceed. Mastitis can turn more serious and abscess if left untreated.
Standard treatment for serious mastitis is antibiotics provided by your care provider which can often help clear up mastitis quickly. Sometimes antibiotic use while breastfeeding can lead to yeast infections in the breast which causes additional pain and issues. For this reason, and because mastitis or plugged ducts can often be cleared up without antibiotics, some providers are careful to only prescribe them if there is a clear need.
The following are some treatments and preventatives for mastitis. There are many so use what works best for you, and again, consult with your provider and birth support team as needed.
- Hot bath while massaging (This may hurt.)
- Castor oil packs- warm castor oil soaked washcloths placed over the swollen area
- Lavender essential rubbed on the infected area
- Soy lecithin pills
- GET IN BED and get lots of rest
- Use an electric toothbrush covered in a soft cloth and massage the plugged duct before it turns into mastitis
- Dangle feeding- Dangle feeding involves kneeling over your baby to nurse so that your breast â€œdangles.â€ While this sounds funny and is, in fact, awkward, it uses gravity to empty the entire breast. Mastitis and plugged ducts are often caused by insufficient milk flow or lack of emptying the breast. Dangle feeding is very good for emptying all the milk from all areas of the breast and returning flow.
- Grapefruit seed extract
- Nursing “around the clock” can help. We tend to nurse in the same position. For instance, always holding the baby in a cradle hold. This can cause milk to be drained well in some areas and not in others. Nursing the baby in different positions and from different angles can help ensure that the breast is well emptied from all sections.
- Frequent, even constant, nursing sessions
- Be sure your hands are clean before touching your breasts
- Cold cabbage leaves on the breast for 10 minutes between feedings (or as needed). Cabbage leaves have long been used for drying up milk, but they can aid in this instance if mastitis is caused by overproduction.
- Warm shower or warm washcloth prior to nursing, followed by hand compression during nursing to help the milk to flow well. Pumping, which can help relieve the engorgement, can continue the cycle of overproduction, insufficient milk drainage, and recurrent plugged ducts and then mastitis.
- Sunflower lecithin
- Breast massage- (Here is a breast massage video that can help.)
- Poke root tincture
- Traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture and cupping
- Chiropractic adjustment for mom and/or baby
- Be sure latch is assessed. A baby that is not latching properly will not be able to sufficiently drain the breast, thus leading to issues with plugged ducts and mastitis.
- Be sure baby has been assessed by a competent IBCLC for tongue tie. Tongue tie, like latch, can make it hard or impossible for the baby to nurse as needed.
- One clove of garlic every three or four hours
- Vitamin C
- Drink tons of water
Be aware of and possibly careful to avoid underwire bras, sports bras, or tight bras. While they don’t bother everyone, because the breast tissue extends back under the armpit, pressure from underwire bras can cause clogged ducts and eventually mastitis.
Note that while it can be very difficult to breastfeeding through mastitis, continuing is the best thing for getting rid of the infection. You milk is still safe for your baby to drink even if you are struggling with mastitis.
Consult an IBCLC (international board certified lactation consultant) as early on as possible. Also, know that WIC and La Leche League offer free breastfeeding support and resources in many communities.
Often the root cause of mastitis must be addressed so that future infections are prevented. Nobody wants to have mastitis once, and dealing with breast infections repeatedly is no fun. While breastfeeding isn’t always easy, it shouldn’t be suffering.
There are ways to avoid and cure mastitis. We hope these mastitis tips and tricks help you get better faster!
A special thanks to our awesome instructors and doulas who shared their experience and wisdom.
Debbe Cannone in San Diego, CA, Erin Marney in Florissant, Colorado, Melanie Galloway in Austin, TX, Jillian Blakeman in DFW, TX, Caryn Westdyk in Haslet, TX, Alisa Spear in Oklahoma City, OK, Melissa McCauley, Nika Johnson, Michelle Davidson in Buda, TX, Ginny Ferguson, Hillary Stillwell in Midlothian, TX, Ashleigh Boogaerts in Bossier City, LA, Suzanne Brown in Denton, TX, Melissa Meyer in Corvallis, OR, Holly Faske, Mellanie Shepphard, IBCLC in Fort Worth, TX, Sara Thompson in Fort Worth, TX.