If you get mastitis while breastfeeding, you can treat it using natural home remedies. Follow these tips to treat mastitis fast from the comfort of your own home, without antibiotics.
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I am not a medical doctor and the suggestions and opinions in this post are from my personal experience and research. I’ve battled mastitis half a dozen times. I know what works–fast. And I’m here to tell you, you can treat mastitis at home naturally, without needing antibiotics!
First, let me say that if you are pregnant or already a breastfeeding mother, know that 1 in 10 women experience mastitis. Although there are things you can do to prevent it, mastitis happens to the best of us.
Also, even non-breastfeeding women can suffer from chronic mastitis. I’ll tell you what I know about that in a minute
What Causes Mastitis in Breastfeeding Mothers
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissues and most commonly diagnosed in breastfeeding women. It typically occurs in the early months of breastfeeding through the first year of baby’s life. Even if you aren’t experiencing it now, check out the signs, remedies and ways to prevent mastitis below so that you’re prepared for it should it rear its ugly head down the road of your breastfeeding journey!
For moms in the early stages of breastfeeding or trying to relactate, a Lying-In period might help you reach your breastfeeding goals faster, and help you avoid mastitis!
The Main Cause of Mastitis is a Clogged Duct
That darn clogged duct! I’ve had them several times and they are a pain to unclog! But if you don’t, it will almost always lead to mastitis. Mammary ducts are the little channels that bring the milk to the nipple.
The ducts get clogged usually from inflammation due to injury. By injury this can mean a minor bump against a doorway or even baby sleeping on your breast a tad too long.
Bacteria from baby’s mouth naturally makes contact with your nipple and will take advantage of the inflamed tissues, furthering the inflammatory response and clogging the duct. Left untreated, an infection grows quickly. The longer it goes untreated or further injury occurs, the worst the infection.
Typically, if you’re seeing signs of a clogged duct, you’ll remember an instance like I just described above that could be the culprit. Or, maybe you’ve just been busy with being mom and superwife. Taking advantage of some higher energy levels and cleaning like a maniac? Have you rushed breastfeeding sessions because you have things to get back to? New bra? These things can all lead to a clogged duct and mastitis!
Other causes and some more details…
- Sleeping on your side and compressing a breast for an extended time. Just when you thought you could sleep soundly again! (not!) Another thing to worry about in your sleep…
- Tight clothes, wire bras.
- Injury to the nipple (like super sore, raw nipples as baby learns to latch properly). This injury causes you to be hesitant to nurse on this side, causing engorgement and ultimately a clogged duct. Here is a post I wrote about getting through the first six weeks of breastfeeding. It includes how to take care of nipple wounds associated with nursing and painful breastfeeding.
- Skipping feedings. Reasons I remember skipping feedings that eventually lead to mastitis: traveling, baby taking a longer nap than usual or falls asleep at one breast and doesn’t switch to the other.
- It’s not just you that can get lazy with breastfeeding–both of my babies would, at times, slack off on their latch and I learned quick to take them off, don’t let them half suckle-half nibble! Small cuts or sores that occur from a bad latch contribute to mastitis before you even know what happened!
Causes of Mastitis for Non-breastfeeding Women
Hormonal changes, menopause and injury to the breast tissue can cause mastitis in women who aren’t nursing or lactating. The home remedies below can still be applied to treat mastitis even if you aren’t breastfeeding. I don’t have experience with mastitis except from my breastfeeding journey so I don’t have a lot of information to offer, but I wanted to know myself! Apparently, some women suffer from chronic mastitis. Oh I feel for you! However, I feel like it should be said that from what I read, if mastitis continues even with antibiotic treatment, screening for inflammatory breast cancer is the next step.
According to Cancer Treatment Center of America, African American women are more commonly diagnosed with IBC (inflammatory breast cancer) and it affects women at a younger age than other breast cancers.
Signs of inflammatory Breast Cancer
- Breast discoloration. One of the early signs of inflammatory breast cancer.
- Breast pain.
- Skin dimpling.
- Change in nipple appearance.
- Enlarged lymph nodes.
- Sudden change in breast size.
IBC can cause chronic mastitis that doesn’t ever seem to completely go away and requires medical attention.
Early Signs of Mastitis
If you are here because you have an inclination that maybe you have a clogged duct or the beginning signs of mastitis, then here’s a virtual *hug*. I know you need it. And here’s what you should be looking for:
- A painful area on your breast. It can be anywhere and this is the exact spot where you might have a clogged milk duct. The pain starts dull and in a small area, usually felt when something bumps against that area of the breast. Nursing will cause pain that is felt deeper in the breast and radiates toward the nipple.
- Redness/Red rash somewhere on your breast. You might not notice this first though–from all the breastfeeding–when is your boob not splotchy and clawed up?? ?
- Feeling tired? You might attribute sudden fatigue to sleepless nights of nursing or taking care of more than one child! But it could be a first symptom of mastitis, so pay close attention to your breastfeeding techniques right now and watch for the other early signs!
Other signs of mastitis…the full blown version:
- Again, extreme fatigue, feeling totally drained.
- Flu like symptoms. Achy chills and you’re super nauseous with a fever! My fevers with mastitis usually reaches over 103. Don’t panic, it’s just your body trying to help treat itself. Thank you Mrs. Immune System!
- Serious pain in your effected breast. It hurts to nurse, hurts to touch, it HURTS!
- Redness and swelling of effected breast. Hot to the touch. Again, notice a red rash in a local area anywhere on the painful breast.
- Weepy–you feel so lousy you just want to cry. (Well I always did.)
- Decreased milk supply? That’s actually because of the clogged duct not letting milk pass, which further exacerbates the situation!
What Does Mastitis Look Like?
Look for localized swelling and a red rash on the breast that feels quite painful. These are the tell-tell signs, the classic symptoms of mastitis.
Can You Heal Mastitis Without Antibiotics?
Yes! Again, consult your doctor if you’re concerned you have a serious medical problem. However, any pediatrician will tell you that exposing young babies to antibiotics is not ideal. Here are results from one study that shows antibiotic exposure in children increases hazard for irritable bowel disease. And this medical site explains how antibiotic use in moms and/or babies can lead to thrush. And there’s much more on the risks of antibiotic exposure in babies.
Instead of running for antibiotics when you get mastitis, try the following natural home remedies to treat it fast! I have successfully treated mastitis in under 24 hours without antibiotics using these exact remedies. I was prone to clogged ducts so I battled mastitis numerous times in my 4 years of breastfeeding and was able to heal without antibiotics in less than a day.
While it does take determination and will power, because you really feel like balling up and crying and doing nothing…pull up your Mama britches and take care of you–little people depend on your health. (That was my pep talk to myself when I needed it)
Ignore the cringy quality, here’s my video on how to treat mastitis at home! Or read ahead here.
10 Ways to Treat Mastitis at Home, Naturally
Note: I used ALL remedies in 1 day and my symptoms would be gone fast. Do not pick just a few of these, use a combination for the fastest relief and the most effective treatment.
- Garlic. I’ll be honest, if I had to pick, this would be my top remedy for mastitis. We know garlic is a great natural antibiotic, but boy does it kick mastitis’ butt! Chop up one clove into sizes you can easily swallow and chase it with orange juice. Repeat every hour until you feel better. Yes, you will smell, but you’ll thank me. If you’d rather, make your own garlic oil and take several drops throughout the day.
2. Breastfeed. Nurse your baby like your life depends on it! It hurts and I have totally cried quietly as it felt like my baby was sucking the ever living tar out of me! But it really does help tremendously to get that duct unclogged. ****This part is seriously worth money to me-nurse in different positions. Lay baby on his/her back and hover over them, dangling your breast. I guess gravity is your friend here, because this absolutely helps too. When you know where the clogged duct is, where that red rash is, try to position baby so that his nose and top lip are pointed toward that area.
3. Hot and cold compress. Applying heat loosens the milk that’s clogged, while cold compresses soothes the inflammation and pain. But switch it up every 5 minutes or so. That heat can further aggravate the inflamed tissues so don’t leave heat on too long. What works best is to do heat to effected area, then nurse baby (or pump if baby is sleeping) and then do a cold pack for 5-10 minutes. I love these gel-free packs from Earth Mama Organics.
However, time isn’t on your side, so here’s another fast way to apply cold compress comfortably. Dampen an infant diaper so that its just barely saturated, not dripping. Put it in the freezer for at least an hour. After a shower and breastfeeding session, put the frozen diaper in your bra. The cooling, soothing relief you will get will feel miraculous and this really helps calm the inflamed tissues fast.
4. Massage. Think of it like a pulled muscle (its not) and work it out with your hands or a massaging tool, like this one from Pink Lotus. Massaging the painful area, gently working toward your nipple. Remember, you want to free that backed up milk.
I should warn you, clogged ducts and mastitis usually do cause a reduced milk supply! That’s because for some time the demand for breast milk slowed down. But don’t worry, it will come back! I’m happy to share some tips that I used after I had mastitis. Sign up below!
5. Essential oils. Now we know you have to be careful with EOS and babies so here’s what I did. After my baby nursed and after the cold compress, put lavender and tea tree oil directly on the area that is painful and red, trying to avoid the nipple area. Massage it in. The anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial properties these specific oils possess are LIFE! Before every nursing session, wipe your breast with a wet wash cloth. I would shower several times a day for both the relief of the hot water and to wash off any oil residues.
6. Rest! Here’s your excuse to get help and be “lazy” all day. Don’t clean, don’t cook—if possible. (Yeah right, us moms never get sick days.) Seriously though, try to rest. If you have other kids, turn on Blippi to entertain them for at least an hour! Relax…but…You need to be actively treating yourself with these home remedies, doing some form of self-help every 5-10 minutes. With mastitis, every minute really does count.
7. Water. Drink as much as you can. This should be closer up to #1 on this list because it’s just as important. You need to up your water intake in order to up your milk supply and help your body fight off infection.
8. Vitamin C. If you have supplement form, take at least 1000mg every hour throughout the day. Berries also contain vitamin c and anti-inflammatory agents so eat lots of those too! This is the liposomal vitamin c that I keep on hand at all times. It’s very easy to get 1000mg of vitamin c fast with this.
9. Take off your bra. Don’t compress or lay on the effected boob! You want to do very little to contribute further to the inflammation. You’ll need to baby this boob just a bit at least until the tenderness and redness go away. Go back to the top of this post and get that free Lying-In Guide, which has helpful steps to setting yourself up for a resting period.
10. Saline wash. Mix table salt with warm water and after every nursing session, dab or dunk your nipple into the saline wash to help fight the bacteria.
Herbal and Plant Remedies for Mastitis
I haven’t tried these remedies, but I’ve read they work. You’ll want to do some more research though as I’m not sure how to recommend them. I don’t talk about anything here that I’m not completely confident in.
- I’ve read that if you put a cabbage leaf directly on your breast you’ll find quick relief from the pain of mastitis. Switch out the leaf every couple of hours. But be careful! Cabbage is also used to dry up milk supply completely.
- Lecithin is a phospholipid that aids in treating mastitis by essentially thinning the milk and helping it pass through the clogged duct. I do have this in my cabinet so now I know I can use it to treat mastitis!
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil (search it on Pure Formulas) is one of those powerful fatty acids that helps to reduce inflammation.
- Sliced, soaked potatoes. When I read this I was like, man I never saw that before! Apparently wet potato slices can also help reduce inflammation and fight bacterial infections. If I ever get mastitis again this will be added to my arsenal!
*For non-breastfeeding women that want to try natural remedies for mastitis, apply all of these treatments, but obviously skip the breastfeeding suggestion!
Can Baby Get Sick When Mom Has Mastitis?
Thankfully no! Your baby can not get sick from mastitis while breastfeeding. Even better, nursing your baby while you have mastitis is one of the best ways to heal yourself naturally.
You won’t like breastfeeding while you have mastitis, but you can push through the discomfort temporarily! You can recover from mastitis fast, without need antibiotics, so just keep at it.
How to Prevent Mastitis
Prevention is key! If you avoid the scenarios I mentioned above (lazy breastfeeding, skipping feedings, etc) you will be able to steer clear of clogged ducts and mastitis. But life happens–none of us Moms are always able to control everything.
My #1 advice to prevent mastitis–this helped me stay on my toes about it–don’t get lazy with breastfeeding. Don’t rush nursing sessions and do not skip feedings! Empty each breast every session to avoid clogging ducts. Don’t wear tight clothes or tight bras and stay away from bras with wire underlining. Try not to compress breasts for long periods, including during sleep! For the life of your breastfeeding journey always be on the lookout for the early signs of a clogged duct and mastitis. The earlier you can intervene, the quicker you’ll recover.
For this reason, I recommend putting together a Breastfeeding Survival Kit so that you’re ready to combat things like mastitis and clogged milk ducts at any time as soon as they arise!
When You NEED a Doctor for Mastitis
If you’ve been experiencing pain, fever and other symptoms and can’t get your breast unclogged for over 48 hours, you may need to get help from a doctor. Unresolved mastitis can lead to an abscess and while that too can probably be remedied at home, I wouldn’t mess around with an abscess!
As a side note, I actually believe mastitis was one reason my 3 month old daughter stopped nursing on one breast. She sort of went on a nursing strike (when babies refuse to nurse), but only against one breast! I managed to EBF her beyond a year (still going) on only one boob! You can read about overcoming nursing strikes here.
If you try my remedies, let me know how it worked! Comment below. Good luck Mamas!