Mastitis simply means, “inflammation of the breast.” The the meaning is simple, but the condition is quite miserable for a breastfeeding mother. Natural remedies for mastitis include rest, heat, massage, garlic and lecithin.
A mother has many channels of milk ducts in each breast. If one of the ducts becomes inflamed or clogged, milk can back up in the breast, causing swelling, pain, fever and infection. It is not uncommon for a breastfeeding mother to get a breast infection when other members of the family are sick with a cold or the flu. Stress, improper breastfeeding practices, and infection can also cause mastitis.
Early Signs of Mastitis
If you suddenly feel a painful lump in your breast that becomes even more painful when you nurse your baby, you likely have a plugged milk duct. You should immediately begin treating the plug to keep it from developing into full blown mastitis.
Early Treatment of Mastitis
Mothers are busy and rest is hard to come by. But not taking the time to rest at the first sign of mastitis may mean that you end up with a more serious infection that will require several days of rest.
Gently massage the lump, especially when you nurse the baby. It is important to nurse the baby frequently if you have mastitis. Infrequent nursing can cause mastitis in the first place as milk backs up in the breast. (And do not worry about nursing during mastitis. The baby cannot get mastitis from you. The milk is not infected. The breast tissue is inflamed and can get infected, but the baby can still be nursed. However, it is not recommended to save any pumped breastmilk for future feedings.)
Use a warm rice sock or heating pad on the painful area between nursings.
Make sure that you are drinking plenty of fluids. Water, herbal tea and broth are ideal.
Nursing a baby is a lot of work! You may need extra vitamin C to keep up your immune system when you are nursing. Even 1,000 mg of sodium ascorbate three times a day is not too much for many nursing mothers.
Herbs for Mastitis
If these remedies do not resolve your plugged milk duct in 12-24 hours, you should move on to more aggressive treatment. If you have fever, malaise, or redness at the site of swelling, you will want to begin some of these remedies right away.
Continue with the above remedies of rest, massage, heat, fluids, and vitamin C. In fact, you may wish to increase your vitamin C intake to 6,000 mg a day. If you begin to get loose stools from the vitamin C, cut back a bit. Usually the body will require large amounts of vitamin C when you are sick and there won’t be an extra the body is trying to flush out.
Garlic is a baby-safe herb that fights infection whether they are viral, bacterial or fungal. Take 1 clove of garlic 4 times a day until the infection is resolved. To take a clove of garlic, crush it, wait 15 minutes to allow the healing allicin to develop, then eat your garlic on a cracker or mixed with honey. You can add a clove to a salad you are eating or to your soup, but you do want to eat it raw.
Turmeric is another wonderful herb to treat infection and inflammation. ½ teaspoon of turmeric root powder can be mixed with 4 ounces of milk or juice. This remedy should be take 4 times a day.
A cold cabbage leaf can be used to treat mastitis. Simply cut a piece of cabbage leaf and place it over the affected area inside the bra. Change the leaf every 2 hours or more. The cold leaf is comforting as well. If you have trouble with your milk supply however, do not use cabbage. It can reduce the milk supply!
A charcoal poultice can be used to reduce pain and inflammation from a plugged duct. Place the poultice over the affected area and change this poultice several times a day. If you make several ahead and keep them in the refrigerator, they will be very soothing when you first apply a fresh poultice. You will find more information about making a charcoal poultice on this page.
Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint essential oil can be used topically to treat mastitis. Peppermint is cooling and will help to relieve the “heat” of mastitis. Massage a couple of drops of the oil into the swollen part of the breast after each nursing. (This will allow fumes to dissipate before the baby’s next feeding. Peppermint essential oil fumes can irritate the eyes.)
Natural Remedies for Chronic Mastitis
Some mothers experience one bout of mastitis after another. This can be discouraging and painful!
Stress can increase the likelihood of mastitis. New moms need plenty of rest. If you have offers of help, take them! Use the baby’s nap time to rest or nap yourself, not catch up on other work. A magnesium supplement can help your body to cope better with stress. Epsom salt baths are also relaxing and deliver stress reducing magnesium to your body through the skin.
Some mothers seem prone to plugged milk ducts. Breast milk is high in fat and that fat can clog up the milk ducts. Lecithin helps to break down the fat and reduce the occurrence of plugged milk ducts. 1-3 capsules of lecithin may be needed daily as a preventative.
Pay Attention to Positioning
Make sure your baby is in a proper nursing position. Changing the positions in which you nurse your baby can help to completely drain the breast. You may need to consult a lactation specialist to make sure your baby is attaching properly. Improper positioning can mean that all of the milk is not being drained from the breast, resulting in mastitis.
Evaluate your Underwear
Underwire nursing bras can cause continuous pressure in one area of the breast. This can cause milk to back up in one area and increase your risk of mastitis. Find a comfortable bra without wires for this nursing season. Bras designed for sleep time are especially comfortable even for day wear. Give your breasts a break and sleep without a bra if possible.
Have you used natural remedies for mastitis? Please send us some feedback!