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. Corin S Avatar

    I scrolled quickly but I don’t think I saw mention of the homeopathic remedy Phytolacca. I took Phytolacca for mastitis late during the first day symptoms were presented and that coupled with YL Thieves oil rubbed on the infected area cleared it up within 48 hours. It was my second experience with mastitis and I was in awe of how quickly and completely it went away without an antibiotic.

  2. Marisa Avatar

    Easy and works in hours without affecting milk supply…2-3 drops oil of oregano with a carrier oil (I used coconut) massaged onto affected breast every 1-2 hrs. You can also take a few drops under your tongue (or mix w juice as it’s Very strong) at same time. Mastitis is not just bacterial but also fungal(yeast). This has worked multiple times for my second and third children. You can decrease to three times a day, for one day, after all symptoms are gone.

  3. Alison Avatar

    I didn’t have time to read all the responses, perhaps I should have as it may have answered my question. But, here it goes…how do you PREVENT mastitis other than nursing often? Thank you!

      1. Jen Moya Avatar

        What are the inflammatory foods to avoid during nursing to avoid all this in the first place? Thank You

  4. Megan Avatar

    I have never had mastitis, with either of my girls. I did get a clogged duct with my second. After being in pain for the whole day, I went online found out about the “white dot” that appears after nursing or pumping. Of course I had to go through pages of comments to even find out about this! But, if you take a sterilized needle to this “white dot”, which is the clogged duct poking through, you get INSTANT relief!
    I have had another clogged duct since then and as soon as I felt it coming on, I went and poked it and haven’t had a problem since!
    This is the only thing that worked for me to get instant relief! Best part is it’s completely painless and you don’t have to worry about drying out your supply or eating certain foods, just need a clean needle! Hope this helps someone!

  5. Melissa Avatar

    I went to bed with the baby and nursed constantly. I also used cabbage leaves. My 8 year old daughter saw me change the leaf out of my bra and proclaimed she would never eat salad again.

  6. Pone Avatar

    I did this too, when my singleton was days old (I guess my body was too used to nursing my 2 sets of twins, and one baby wasn’t drinking enough milk! I did notice a lump too, a duct that was not letting down, it was a bit soar and cracked too. So I did like you said – shower, massage, nurse, nurse in different positions to stimulate different ducts, pump, sleep, rest and sleep more, also taking some apple cider vinegar adn garlic in capsule form. I had just spiked a fever too. , I actually already had a prescription antibiotics but didn’t yet fill it…determined to beat this without them. But, I DID get a Rx steroid nipple cream, which helped heal taht crackgin, and is way better than antibiotics any day. But I could still not get that darn duct to let down. The baby wasn’t getting it and niether the pump. So in desperation, I enlisted some professional help. Well, more accurately, I begged for amature hlep from my husband – who after some convincing, humbly, graciously used his own amazing lung-suction power and mouth to unclog it for me. And it worked. I am so grateful to have a hubby who is willing to do that for me.

  7. Jennifer Avatar
    Jennifer

    Pineapple juice. I had mastitis with 104 temp multiple times with my first baby. On my third trip in to the dr for antibiotics, the NP told me as much as she loves the dr she worked for, I shouldn’t be taking antibiotics he kept prescribing if I could help it. She told me they use pineapple juice in Europe. One 4 ounce can should do it. I was fever free and lump/pain free within hours! With my second and third children, I drank one small can of pineapple juice one a week as a preventative during those first few months- only one infection that I cleared up with an additional can. It really works. I have told many friends and neighbors and it has worked for every single one.

  8. Ashley Avatar

    I have had mastitis many times. Although ever since I started taking phytolacca decandra -homeopathic medicine- at the first signs of mastitis, I have not needed antibiotics. The bottle says its for sore throat but for some reason it’s a MIRACLE when it comes to mastitis. Once i googled it i realized I was not the only one to know this. If you suffer from mastitis frequently please try it! ( whole foods or any natural good store that sells homeopathics)

    1. BRIE Avatar

      HI-JUST A CONFORMATION THAT I TOO TAKE PHYTOLACCA 30C WHENEVER I START TO FEEL A BREAST INFECTION COMING ON AND THANKFULLY HAVE BEEN ABLE TO AVOID ANTIBIOTICS EVER SINCE THEN. I ALSO DO MOST OF THE OTHER THINGS PEOPLE HAVE TALKED ABOUT INCLUDING HOT PACK, PROBIOTICS, BRAGGS APPLE CIDER VINEGAR, FREQUENTLY FEEDING BABY, LOTS OF WATER AND MOST IMPORTANT REST!

      1. Dre Avatar

        Hi Brie, can you help by confirming how often you mean when you write ‘frequent breastfeeding’.

        Many thanks

    2. Mia Avatar

      Mastitis can sometimes be caused by strep so a sore throat homeopathic med makes sense.

  9. Jess Avatar

    I had this last year, and what worked for me was fresh ginger pressed into as hot of water as you can comfortably stand; dip a folded washcloth into the ginger water, squeeze out excess, lay over the affected breast, and let sit until the skin is reddened and warm – 5-10 minutes. You can do this as often as you want to, and it really works!

  10. Julia Avatar

    When I had mastitis I used raw potato slices. Slice potato thinly let soak in water for 10 min and put a slice on the mastitis, change to a new slice every hour. Plus my midwife recommended to feed a baby in the manor that his chin rubs against the place of inflammation.

  11. Caff Avatar

    I personally have never had mastitis, but I raise goats that have, so I’ve had to deal with it from time to time. I have found that using a few drops of Lavendar Essential Oil in about half a cup of Olive Oil works well. Both of these oils have pain killing properties. I also tried Lavender and Peppermint Essential Oils in the Olive Oil, works great but. . . Peppermint actually “dries up” the milk supply. So unless that’s your goal, I wouldn’t recommend it. I just make the mixture, put it in a glass jar, and it usually lasts a couple months, applied topically. I hope this helps someone! 🙂

  12. Carrie P Avatar
    Carrie P

    I took one of my sons diapers and I wet it then put it in the freezer and after it froze. I would put it in my bra and it would go from cold to hot from my body heat. It works amazingly well and something everyone already has. 🙂

  13. Sandra Avatar

    A good way to eat quantities of garlic is to drink them with yoghurt. Just add a little bit of water and salt and shake. It’s so easy and tasty that you’ll have this several times a day 😉
    Otherwise, about the cabbage leaves remedy, it does help a lot in case of really painful engorgement. I used this when I stopped breastfeeding, and I can attest it does wonders! I assume one could use it for mastitis to alleviate symptoms if it’s just too painful, provided of course, they take the right measures to keep up milk production (drinking water, nursing constantly).

  14. Katie Avatar

    I have had it three times and massage in a hot shower, and castol oil hot packs on the breast seemed to do the trick (while resting and taking echenacia and vit C). Thanks for sharing!

  15. Aubi Avatar

    I’ve had it twice, pretty awful time!! My second time my chiropractor adjusted me and recommended taping the cloves of garlic directly to the infected area – I did it after warm compresses. The next morning all symptoms were gone! Garlic is quite the antibiotic! Side note that I did get a little “burnt” in the areas where it was, and it itched for several days, but after that it was fine. If I had to do it over again I would put coconut oil under the garlic to help protect the sensitive skin 🙂 the itching was better than an antibiotic though!!

  16. Caitlyn Avatar

    Katie, I’m so glad you have recovered, and without antibiotics to boot 🙂 I had terrible, terrible mastitis when my son was 14 days old. It was the sickest I ever remember being… I took food grade H2O2 and vitamin C, had a fever of 105, recovered after 36 hours, and then it came back with a vengeance. My fever got to 105.5 and my husband dragged me to the ER. I was so incredibly sick, like I said. I’m allergic to many antibiotics… The antibiotic I took made my little boy vomit profusely… It was so scary, and so sad. For 4 days I pumped and dumped it all down the drain while feeding my new baby milk I had frozen and formula. I can’t explain how exhausting or sad this was for me. But we got through it, and my son managed to nurse until 11 months… Then my best friends husband was killed in AFG (marine, as is my husband) and she needed my help so I left my son with my inlaws, since my husband was also in AFG at the time, and I went to help my friend for a week. I pumped and dumped while away 🙁 but when I got home my little guy was just not interested, he was on a cup and done sitting still to suck a boob 🙂 All this to say, nursing can be tough, really tough, but in my opinion it is one of the most important things you will ever do for your child. I would do it all again.

  17. Attie Avatar

    I stayed off antibiotics by ONLY feeding baby on the infected side, pumping after every feed an additional 5-10 min on both sides, and a warm compress 4 times a day. My pump was only used for car rides, and itchy breasts, that always meant a sore mastitis boob or bad clog was coming… If I even felt an itch, I drug out the pump, and the lanolin.

  18. AndreaG Avatar

    A lactation consultant had me take 1 TBSP of granular lecithin 4 times a day with water/juice. (lecithin helps break up the clogged milk ducts by breaking down the fat in the milk) She also recommended I take grapefruit seed extract in juice 4 times a day as well. These were always my main go-to products for the many times I have had mastitis. Actually because I could anticipate getting mastitis at least once with each child, I would keep these things on hand. Then ANYTIME I started feeling worn down or started feeling a lump or felt engorged, I would begin taking these things and I could even prevent getting mastitis at all! I also would massage the area while baby was nursing too, and apply a bit of heat before baby nursed.

  19. Adriana Bustos Avatar
    Adriana Bustos

    I followed the recommendation of my naturopathic doctor to take a teaspoon or two of sea salt in the morning in water for several days in a row. I must admit I was skeptical at first but by the next day the pain was completely gone and the redness was fading.

  20. Steven Avatar

    I often read your blog, rarely comment…but I love so much of the info you provide! I had mastitis innumerable times with my first. He was born big…a great nurser…so I had a huge milk supply. However, whenever he would slow down and didn’t need quite as much (i.e.: after a growth spurt or during a cold), I would inevitably get an infection. Terribly painful, inflamed, red-streaked areas, fevers, etc. The best remedy I used was cabbage leaves. As you said, it DOES slow supply (over-supply was my problem every time), but it worked so well and much faster than antibiotics! Also, not making your own health priority can quickly lead to any number of health issues for yourself. You simply can’t nourish and care for your baby if you’re not nourishing and caring for yourself. It’s so important to get enough rest, exercise gently, eat well, and stay hydrated. The hardest thing for me to learn was to slow down and say “no” politely but firmly to anything that doesn’t allow you to focus on this short season of your life. When we see this time as a blessing and enjoy it with gratitude in our hearts, it becomes precious…and trust me, it’s over before you know it! As moms, we’re often persuaded that we need to be able to “do it all” but we are still human and have limitations! I wish someone would’ve encouraged me to be human instead of trying to become wonder woman…it would’ve been better for the overall health of my entire family! I’m finally learning to take life moment by moment and not stress out about accomplishing everything perfectly all the time. Again, thanks for the wonderful suggestions…great ideas , all! =)

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