Home Remedies for Mastitis That Really Work

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Wellness Mama » Blog » Motherhood » Home Remedies for Mastitis That Really Work

Breastfeeding comes with its fair share of challenges. From sore nipples to late-night feeds (and plenty of baby cuddles!). If you notice breast pain, flu-like symptoms, and blocked milk ducts then it could be mastitis. Here’s what mastitis is and the home remedies I successfully used to treat my breast infection.

Years ago after an 18-hour car ride with five kids (yes, I might be crazy) I got a bad case of mastitis. The baby was pretty happy in the car and when the kids are happy, I drive.

The first night, I attributed the tired feeling to altitude sickness and the tightness to not nursing all day, so I went to sleep early. The next morning, I knew something was wrong. That afternoon, I had a large lump forming in my breast, a classic sign of a clogged milk duct. Later I spiked a 104 fever (a sign of my immune system fighting infection). I completely understand (and sympathize) with how awful these types of infections are!

What is Mastitis?

Over the years our understanding of what mastitis exactly is has changed. Breastfeeding moms can get plugged milk ducts which can then lead to inflammation and infection (mastitis). If you notice pain, swelling, and a lump in your breast tissue (often near the areola) then it’s likely a blocked milk duct. If you start to develop signs of an infection, then it’s likely lactation mastitis.

The risk factors and causes of mastitis include:

  • Weaning too quickly and the affected breast becomes engorged
  • Baby doesn’t have a good last and isn’t draining the breast well
  • Pressure on the breasts (from a tight bra, seatbelt, etc.)
  • Oversupply which leads to breast engorgement (can also be caused by pumping too frequently)
  • Infection from breast damage, like cracked nipples

Symptoms of Mastitis

Here’s what to look out for if you think you have mastitis.

  • Pain, swelling, redness, and/or inflammation of the breast
  • Flu-like symptoms (including fever and body aches)
  • A hard lump
  • Nipple discharge
  • A collection of pus (breast abscess)
  • Decreased milk production in the affected breast

When I got mastitis I was 1,300 miles from home and my doctor & midwife, and without most of the remedies I would have on hand at home. I wanted to avoid antibiotics if possible, though really bad cases of mastitis can definitely warrant antibiotics (which are a better option than developing an abscess).

I did what I usually do: research like crazy and try any natural remedies that I can while nursing. Four days later the lump was gone and I didn’t have any remaining symptoms. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and I could probably have avoided it if I had simply nursed the baby more often.

Since I did get mastitis I had the chance to try a lot of different remedies. These are the ones that worked for me to naturally treat mastitis.

Natural Mastitis Treatment

In the past, heat and extra pumping/feeding were recommended. If there’s a clogged duct then massage and continuing feeding as normal can help it release. If there’s an infection (mastitis), then feeding or pumping more than normal can trigger the body to make more milk and have an oversupply.

Since mastitis comes with inflammation, conventional advice is to take over-the-counter medication for pain and swelling. Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil, and Ibuprofen are common examples. I found that applying cold to the area and using other natural remedies did the job just as well (and probably better!).

1. Rest and Frequent Nursing

I’ve heard lactation consultants say mastitis can be a sign you’re pushing too hard and need to rest. Going too long without nursing is another reason. The first step I took when I realized I had mastitis was to go to bed and nurse the baby constantly. This helps the milk flow through the clogged duct.

Try different breastfeeding positions to make sure baby can get enough breastmilk out. Also check to make sure baby’s mouth has a good latch, which can prevent fully draining the breast. Here are signs that baby may have a lip or tongue tie that’s causing issues:

Signs of Tongue and Lip Tie

  • Mom has nipple pain during nursing
  • Nipples looked creased, blanches, cracked, blistered, or bleed
  • Plugged ducts, infected nipples, or mastitis
  • Thrush on nipples
  • Engorged breasts (baby can’t get enough milk out)

You may notice that your baby has some of the following symptoms:

  • Shallow latch
  • Pops on and off breast often
  • Gums/chews nipple
  • Clicking noise when nursing
  • Swallows lots of air, gassy, colicky, and/or reflux
  • Nurses for long periods or has a short time in between feeds

I had Dr. Erin Appleton on the podcast and she had some really good information on breastfeeding and oral ties that you can listen to here.

2. Applying Cold or Heat

I found cold was most useful for helping with the pain, but I sometimes used heat. I applied heat for 15-30 minutes before nursing to help loosen the blockage in the duct and make nursing easier. Then, I’d apply ice after nursing for 15-30 minutes to bring the swelling down.

Try using an ice pack or cold compress for cooling and anti-inflammatory relief.

3. Massage

At the time, resources I looked at said to use massage to release the blockage. I found relief by massaging the affected area in small circles while baby was nursing. Sources now are a little more mixed on this one. According to one breast health expert Dr. Mitchell:

“It is important to recognize that this is not a “plug” in one of the hundreds of millions of ducts in the breast.  It simply represents transient engorgement of milk-making cells and congestion of fluid and blood vessels.   

If a mother experiences a “plug”, she should strictly avoid excessive massage as this traumatizes breast tissue, causes broken capillaries, worsens swelling, and can lead to something called “phlegmon” or abscess.”

The Cleveland Clinic adds that a light, lymphatic massage can be helpful. They also warn against putting too much pressure on the breast though. To do a lymphatic breast massage, gently stroke from the areola toward the lymph nodes above the collarbone and in the armpit. This helps move trapped fluid to reduce swelling.

This Happy Ducts glycerite from Wish Garden also helps improve lymph flow to clear mastitis faster.

Gentle massage while baby is nursing can help with milk letdown and milk flow. However, if you do use massage it could do more harm than good in some cases. If you’re unsure this is a good time to consult with an IBCLC lactation consultant.

4. Stay Hydrated

Drinking water is extremely important when fighting mastitis. I kept a quart of water near me at all times and sipped constantly to keep my milk supply up and help my body fight the infection. Adding minerals is also a good idea since our body isn’t just 80% water, but 80% salt water!

I love this mineral drink recipe.

5. Raw Garlic

Garlic isn’t the best for baby’s tummy, but its antibacterial properties do wonders for infections. I could get organic garlic at the store, so I took a few cloves a day. I’ve always done this when I get a bad infection or illness and I always get better in a day or so. The easiest way I’ve found is to finely mince the garlic and then scoop small amounts up with a spoon. I’ll put it in my mouth, and quickly chase it with some water.

If you’re not quite as adventurous as I am, then mixing the garlic with some raw honey makes it a little easier!

6. Cabbage Leaves

I remembered this suggestion from the lactation consultant in the hospital after having one of my babies. I don’t know if it helped with the infection but it felt great on the infected duct and it certainly didn’t hurt.

A 2012 meta-analysis looked at several studies of breastfeeding women using cabbage leaves for relief. The researchers found cabbage leaves reduced pain and breast engorgement. Plus it helped women to breastfeed longer since they were more comfortable nursing.

To use this remedy: put a cold cabbage leaf directly on the breast over the site of the infected breast. Change every hour as needed. NOTE: Some women notice a decrease in milk supply from using cabbage leaves, so be careful with this remedy.

7. Vitamin C

I always bring vitamin C when we travel so thankfully I had this on hand. I took 4 capsules every four hours until the infection was gone. Vitamin C helps support the immune system and is great for any kind of infection.

How vitamin C and vitamin E affect milk production is often studied in dairy animals. One 2005 study found that camels with low levels of vitamin C in their milk and blood plasma were more likely to have mastitis. Of course, breastfeeding moms aren’t camels, but animal studies seem to point to the importance of getting enough of these vitamins.

Some moms also report good results after gently massaging vitamin E into the breast tissue after a nursing session.

8. Probiotics

I had probiotics with me as well, so after the infection started to fade, I took large doses of probiotics to help keep my immune system strong. I continued high doses of probiotics for about a week before I went back to the normal dose.

A 2022 meta-analysis looked at how probiotics can help with mastitis symptoms. The researchers noted that the probiotics reduced the bad bacteria in breast milk for both healthy moms and those with mastitis. This means probiotic supplements can help reduce your chance of getting mastitis symptoms. Even if you’ve already got a case of mastitis, probiotics can be helpful for recovery!

Final Thoughts on Home Remedies for Mastitis

The first day I realized I had mastitis, I felt awful. I spiked a high fever and had chills and muscle aches like the flu. Within 24 hours of this protocol, the fever broke and I felt MUCH better. After 48 hours, all that remained was a small painful lump, and by three days out I was back to normal.

Mastitis can be a serious infection and can lead to more serious problems. Not every case will be helped with natural remedies. If you notice worsening symptoms within a few days or you’re really uncomfortable, then be sure to contact your healthcare provider for advice.

Ever had mastitis? How did you get rid of it? Share below!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

122 responses to “Home Remedies for Mastitis That Really Work”

  1. Elizabeth Avatar
    Elizabeth

    Thank you so much for this post. I had my first encounter with mastitis last week. It came on in about 2 hours. I had to go to the ER and have antibiotics (my BP was 80/40 and my hands/feet were going numb). Now that I know what to do, if it starts I can try these remedies first. I really try to avoid antibiotics! Thank you!!!

  2. Rebekah Avatar

    Oh man… I had clogged ducts all the time the first month of nursing my baby! I got mastitis only once, fortunately. My midwife told me to use castor oil compresses with heat, to keep massaging it, and to nurse as often as possible. I also took oregano oil capsules and tons of Vitamin C. I felt terrible for two days (like the flu) but it subsided on its own, and I was grateful to avoid the antibiotics.

  3. kellydreams2011 Avatar
    kellydreams2011

    I had mastitis several times with my 2nd child and actually ending up having to have surgery to remove a painful lump where the infection crystallized into a sharp, pointy lump. It was so bad a couple of times, I had red streaks coming up on the breast. I wish I had this information 20 years ago! In hindsight, my naturopathic doctor felt like the first pregnancy took all the nutrition from my body and weakened my immune system. I’ve never been the same physically and developed fibromyalgia by the time my 2nd child was 2 or 3. I would encourage anyone who is pregnant or nursing to do everything they can to boost their immune system. I was dealing with 2 young children in diapers and the 2nd one was quite sick. I neglected my health and grabbed snacks when I could, instead of focusing on good, healthy food. At the time I didn’t have the energy to cook (much less clean!) Hindsight is 20/20 and there are no do-overs, so go into pregnancy healthy with a pumped up immune system and do what you can to stay healthy while nursing.

    1. Julie Avatar

      I had similar situation with my first pregnancy depleting my body of nutritients as I did not know I had Lyme disease 24 years ago; after many doctors claiming I was depressed or exhausted from having 3 children ages 3 and under, I was labeled with thyroid issues, adrenal exhaustion, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia along with myocafacial issues.

      Every one of my 7 pregnancy resulted in breast infections at least once but I was able to beat them sometimes using the recommended natural ideas shared here plus massage at the area of pain under a hot shower (great relief!!) but never cabbage leaves which dried up milk in every mom I’ve known. Occasionally, the infection shows up when I was pregnant but still nursing a little one; with 15 pregnancies over 22 years, it tends to get you run down.

      Drink, rest, nurse, rest and watch for streaks which is indicative of an infection which needs antibiotics.

  4. Julie Avatar

    I have had mastitis many times with three children and an organic, raw, potato grated and placed directly on the sore, red, inflamed area has worked every time. Once the potato dries out take it off and repeat as necessary. Wear an old bra, the potato will turn it grey. I first read about the potato cure in the book Childbearing Year by Susan Weed.

  5. Valerie Avatar

    I’m happy you feel better. Mastitis is the worst.
    Ladies, about the garlic: this is what I do for mastitis or any infection. (Works great for kids too) Smash it up and either encapsulate it or make garlic socks (mix with coconut oil or it will burn your skin). I can’t handle the taste but must get it into my bloodstream.

    Also, about the overabundant supply which can contribute to mastitis, the hormone LHT regulates anterior milk supply. If you can get a holistic doctor to balance it with biofeedback or homeopathy, the supply will calm down. Mine is always crazy massive amounts of milk, which I’m so thankful for, but must stay on top of or mastitis is always around the corner.

  6. Julia Avatar

    Another simple trick I learned is to position the baby’s head so that his or her mouth is pointing in the direction of the infected area. This directs the strongest suck towards the clog. It did wonders for me and was such a simple remedy.

  7. Jaclyn Avatar

    I’ve had mastitis 3 times!! It is soo terrible, the first time was the absolute worst! However I did lots of research and decided to try out poke root. The next 2 times I felt mastitis coming on I took the poke root and within 12 hours it went away! Magic for me and so happy I found it! ( also tried to rest up! Ate garlic and elderberry syrup to try to boost my immune system) 🙂

  8. Daniella Avatar
    Daniella

    Great remedies! Just a word on the cabbage leaves…they can decrease milk supply (pretty rapidly in some women).

  9. Rozanna Avatar

    Thanks for the information. I have had mastitis four times in a year, I hope it will not come back, but if it does I know what to do! Thank you and lots of blessings to you and your family.

  10. Siobhan Avatar

    I just had mastitis last week. I took raw garlic, soaked in epsom salt bath, massaged the area while nursing and applied young living’s Melrose oil and warm compress over the plugged duct and was better in a couple days. I’ve had mastitis several times unfortunatey and I think taking the raw garlic is what really helps the most.

  11. Clara Avatar

    I had mastitis when breastfeeding both my babies due to a massive oversupply of milk. I found that garlic really put the babies off the milk so in my case made it worse! I found ice to be the best thing and the best tip I got was to soak a couple of clean breast pads in water and freeze. That way you can just tuck them in your bra as needed! Also sage tea to slow milk supply.

  12. Crystal Clock Avatar
    Crystal Clock

    I had recurring mastitis with both my boys. Unfortunately I ended up on antibiotics most of the time because I was pumping not nursing. My first son didn’t latch on till he was 3 months old and my second son was early and in the nicu for a month. When I was able to heal without antibiotics it was always the hot shower and deep deep tissue massage to the affected area while in the shower. I would get out of the shower and pump and almost always I would get relief. For those that have never had it, your lucky. I’ve had it 5 or 6 times with 3 of those times having the high fever, body aches, and chills. Yuck. The things we go through for our precious little ones.

  13. Dina Hart Avatar
    Dina Hart

    I had mastitis a few months ago and did pretty much exactly the same things as you describe here. I find especially the garlic method VERY effective! Yay for natural remedies!

  14. Stephanie Avatar
    Stephanie

    Never had Mastitis but did have the plugged duct. MW recommended all these things plus Emergen-C, Echinacea tincture, and grated raw potato poultice. I was over it in three days, thank God!

  15. Andrea Avatar

    I have used heat/cold in combination with massage and extra nursing sessions to fight mastitis. I have also found that if there is an extended period of time that baby won’t be nursing (like a long car ride) that if I hand express some milk from my breasts every few hours it take the pressure off an helps to prevent a blockage & mastitis.

  16. Sara Avatar

    I would not recommend cabbage leaves. It can dry up your milk supply. This happened to me personally. Please remove this information from your site, because it can be misleading and their is a lot of misinformation about it on the internet. Thanks.

      1. kelly Avatar

        It is possible that milk drying up while using the cabbage leaves was a coincidence. My thinking about be that not drinking enough water or not nursing enough (especially if the breast is extremely painful, thus discouraging nursing) would be more of a contributing factor to milk drying up than cabbage leaves placed on the skin.

        1. Dee Avatar

          My lactation consultant recommended cabbage leaves to dry up breast milk and to help with weaning

        2. Mitchell Dech Avatar
          Mitchell Dech

          Add dandelion leaf, it promotes lactation in all land mammals, if using cabbage leaf

      2. Sophia Avatar

        I have committed to weening my 2.5 year old as of today. I have had mastitis in the past and want to avoid getting it again. I am currently doing cabbage, cold compress, rubbing sage essential oil, drinking sage tea and peppermint tea. Is there anything else I can do to make this process easier? I am engorged and in pain I also feel a clogged duct… We were down to 2-3 feedings a day going down to less was not happening. I know ideally working my way down to 1-0 would have been beneficial but again it was not doable for us. Any additional tips are greatly appreciated.
        Blessings,
        Sophia

    1. Narda Avatar

      I’m so glad to have seen that cabbage leaves dry up milk, cuz my youngest baby is 19 yrs old !
      I have mastitis, and am going the natural route, along with the antibiotic.
      I’ve “got my cabbage leaves on”…heehee…
      I drank my pineapple juice,
      am using garlic,
      drank peppermint tea, and will have the sea salt each morning, till I’m better..
      I’m grateful for this post, and plan to keep in touch with this website !
      Oh dear. Don’t drink pineapple juice and peppermint tea around the same time.
      My stomach is sick.
      🙂

  17. angela Avatar

    glad you’re better! Have you switched Vitamin C and probiotic brands permanently? I started purchasing, through your affiliate links, the vitamin c powder from NOW about a year ago. And I also purchased the other probiotics – Bio-Kult you have talked about many times. Why the changes to the brands listed in this article?

      1. Patty Avatar

        if you was a doctor you’d know that ” … itis …” refers to infection thus if one has a breast infection and uses suckling or nursing as part of mothers’ cure isn’t the baby drinking infected milk?

          1. Kelly Avatar

            I had a very painful case of mastitis while nursing (because of not nursing frequently enough I believe) and it was relieved by extra suckling. The biggest trick to it though was to position the baby where the lump (clogged duct) was, with the baby’s chin facing the lump. For instance, lump on bottom of breast, baby held in vertical position. Although a little painful during, the nursing in this way stripped the clogged duct and provided almost instant relief. It was recommended by a trusted midwife, and the only thing that helped me.

          2. Kara Paulsen Avatar
            Kara Paulsen

            5 stars
            Hello!

            These tips were all very helpful. Thank you for sharing 🙂 I’m feeling much better already.

      2. Catalina Avatar
        Catalina

        Wellness Mama, I want to thank you. I found this article after 24 hrs of chils, night sweats and 103 degree fevers. I knew it was mastitis because I had while breastfeeding my 2 oldest daughters. So this third time I researched for hone remedies. I used just 5 of your 9 remedies and in 48 hours felt relief and in 72 hours I was free of the mastitis. I did the resting and nursing frequently, plus pumping if I felt my baby was too full to nurse at the moment. Also deep tissues massage, looots of water, 2000mg Vitamin C every day, Hot and Cold breast pearls (Lanisoh Thera-Pearl Breast Therapy, bought them at walmart for 14 dollars I believe). Thank you so much for your advice. This mama is a happy mama now 🙂

      3. Tina H Avatar

        I’ve struggled with recurring plugged ducts and also with mastitis twice. I’ve been doing SO many of these natural remedies and then some (garlic, probiotics, vitamin C, oil of oregano, lecithin, ibuprofen, turmeric, heat, massage, coconut oil mixed with lavender essential oil topically, garlic oil topically, cabbage leaf in bra, potato slices in bra, cold packs, rest, water)
        FINALLY FOUND WHAT I WAS MISSING!
        A tincture by Wish Garden called HAPPY DUCTS!! I was specifically looking for poke root at Whole Foods, which is supposed to be really effective in treating plugged ducts. They didn’t have it plain, but they had this with poke root in it. I’m SO glad I found it! My condition has been noticeably improving since taking this for 24 hours now. Its herbal ingredients are as follows: Usnea lichen, Elder flower, Bee Propolis, Yarrow aerials, Baptisia root, Boneset aerials, Hops strobile, Echinacea root, Red root, & Poke root. Just wanted to share so maybe others can suffer less & heal faster!

        1. Laurie Avatar

          Thank you!!! I went and got the suggested tincture. Cleared my blocked ducts in 12 hours.

      4. Roseanna Ciocca Avatar
        Roseanna Ciocca

        Can you tell me how much Vitamin C is in one of these capsules?

  18. Virginia Miner Avatar
    Virginia Miner

    Oh man, yes! I have had the 105 degree fever dreadful mastitis, also while on vacation. I ended up taking antibiotics 🙁 and pounding water and vitamin c. It still took about 48 hours for me to become functional, I would definitely try to avoid antibiotics next time.

  19. Jackie Avatar

    I had Mastitis when nursing my second child, twice. What I want to say is i recently developed cancer in the breast that had the mastitis and believe that the damaged cells from the infection were attacked by the cancer cells, since they were already damaged and at risk. I am not a doctor either, but I know my body. Just a reminder that you should get some sort of breast checking done and self-exams are important too. That was the sickest I have ever been when I had Mastitis, not fun, glad you’re better.

    1. Susan Avatar

      Thank you for your comment and sharing your experience. I had mastitis while nursing my second child and 30 years later had ductal carcinoma in that same area. I never put the 2 together before.

      1. Noelani Boyd Avatar
        Noelani Boyd

        I came here for information on a plugged duct and now I have another reason to keep me awake at night. Mastitis connected to cancer? The sharing is wonderful, but this just scared the Dickens out of me as I have had a few plugged ducts with my second child. Wellness mama, maybe you should do a post on the pursuit of health slowly and insidiously morphing into hypochondria and burgeoning anxiety! I am not joking. I know information is power, but sometimes I feel like all the web searching in the pursuit of health for myself and my family just creates more fear and anxiety than empowerment and peace. Is it just me or does anyone else struggle with this?

        1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

          I completely understand what you are saying… I”ve had to learn to let a lot of it go and just focus on the present without getting too stressed out (easier said than done, I know).

          1. Ellie Avatar

            I know this post is from April, but I just wanted to share that there has been no causal relationship between women who develop mastitis from breastfeeding to breast cancer. There have been studies on this, and studies have shown that women who develop nonpuerperal-mastitis (not related to pregnancy or breastfeeding) or women with a family history of BC are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer is still significantly lower in women who breastfeed with no increase in lifetime risk of having had multiple episodes of mastitis. Just thought I’d share since I know it can be scary thinking about a possible link between mastitis and BC when developing mastitis is painful enough as it is.

    2. Bernadine Newland Avatar
      Bernadine Newland

      I think that it is possible for damaged cells to become cancerous also. My sister died from breast cancer which was discovered only a couple of months after she was hit in the breast by a piece of lumber. (she worked in a mill at the time). I was kicked in the breast by a colt and developed breast cancer a few months later in exactly the same place where the little hoof hit my breast. I think it is important to protect our breasts from injury if possible and of course self breast exams are important every month.

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