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. Meghan Avatar

    What about mastitis without a plugged duct? I smashed a clove of garlic and added one drop each of lavender and tea tree oils and mixed in into some coconut oil for a sort of poultice on my breast and I’m about to pump since it hurts too much for baby to help out. What else can I do? And is the garlic on my skin as good as eating the garlic? It would be good to know for future reference. I’ve had several infections with each of my children and I expect to have more with this one 🙁

  2. Dre Avatar

    I started my first bout of mastitis last week in the leftbreast. It had cleared within one week. Then it started in the right breast on Tuesday. Then a couple of days later it returned in the left breast. I’ve had two bouts of fever and sweats, with horrendous joint ache all over and headache.

    The red rash seems to be spreading from different ducts, new patches of redness are appearing in different places on both breasts, i.e. Spreading around.

    Dr prescribed antibiotics. I’ve resisted taking them so far. But I’m getting worried abut the continuation and the redness spread. And the smal hard lumps.

    Been doing massage, hot showers, hot compresses. Increased feeding again.
    Started cabbage today – found it got moist underneath? Perhaps I ledt it too long?
    Started garlic in yogurt this evening.

    Have a couple of lumps in left boob and wondering whether developing abcess? Hoping not. How common are the lumps for everyone here?
    Did you all have red patches (like sunburn?) and lumps?
    Did anyone have the red patches spread to different areas of the breast over time?
    How often does everyone mean by ‘more regular’ feeding?

    Many thanks.

    1. Meghan Avatar

      Olive leaf extract is a natural antibiotic that helped me with my last infection. I wish I had some on hand for this one!

  3. Jenny Avatar

    PARSLEY!! I had a nasty case when my son was about 8 months old. It came on fast with fever/chills, swelling, redness and serious pain. My upstairs neighbor consulted her new herbal remedies book (I wish I knew which one!) and came back to tell me a parsley poultice. She went to the store for me, God bless her and I wrapped the parsley in a cloth diaper, tied it with a rubber band and steeped it for just a minute in boiling water. As soon as it cooled enough I put it on the swelling. Within an hour I was completely healed, no fever no lump nothing! This is the easiest cheapest cure everyone should know about!!

  4. Ash-leigh Avatar
    Ash-leigh

    THANK YOU!!!!! I got mastitis a few days ago, I went to the doctors as I had a temp of 39 degrees Celsius, not sure what that is in Fahrenheit. They have me liquid anti-biotics and really didn’t want to take them. Doctors aren’t (legally) allowed to cure you, they just give you tablets to take away the symptoms. I have ordered vitamin C and Probiotics and they come next week. I have just been taking garlic A LOT and it’s almost gone….. I have never felt so rubbish, NATURAL is best 🙂 Also want to thank you for your eczema remedies as it has really helped my 7 month old.

  5. Kristin Avatar

    I currently am fighting off mastitis. This is my second baby and I haven’t had this before, I did lots of research for remedies and tried a bunch. I was concerned about my milk supply dropping so I went in to see the lactation specialist at our local hospital, come to find out I have oversupply, which is probably the cause of my mastitis. She gave me some great tips though. She said tumeric is very helpful in preventing future bouts. She said take 1/2 tsp daily with some pepper (that helps with the absorption) and she said it also helps reduce colic in babies. Another option she said is to combine tumeric and water and make a paste and rub it in the mastitis lump and let it sit for a while and harden and then wash it off. Also she mentioned sunflower lecithin as an alternative to soy. She said it is an emulsifier and helps the milk not stick in the ducts. So anyone who has a predisposition for developing mastitis can do those things daily for prevention.

    1. Dre Avatar

      Hello,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Did you avoid antibiotics altogether?

      Where did you source the lecithin from and in what format and how often did you take? How long did you take it for?

      Did you take the tumeric the rest of the time you were breastfeeding?

      Do you mind me asking your smin symptoms? Red rash? Did this spread in patches? Any lumps?

      Many Thanks.

  6. Jess Avatar

    Oh it was so nice to see another non-nursing woman comment about mastitis. Its very scary when you aren’t nursing but are get this ‘nursing moms only’ issue. The first time a warm tea bag helped. The tannins and the heat were a big help. The second time nothing helped but the antibiotics. But since Im not nursing I would definitely try the cabbage leaf. Also breast massage in a warm shower especially before my period starts as I tend to ‘leak’ at that time. Good luck!

  7. louise Avatar

    Never got diagnosed but i believe I’m getting mastitis. gunna try the garlic. and pineapple juice. thx for all the tips.

  8. Zazil Avatar

    Just had mastitis and didn’t want to take antibiotics so I followed your recommendations and it worked like a charm! I also massaged Thieves and Purification EOs while nursing/pumping. Tip for the raw garlic – cut up in small pieces and cover in olive oil. I would put a spoonful at a time in my mouth and chase it with water like I was swallowing a pill. Not only did the olive oil coat the flavor and sting from the garlic but it also helped it go down easier with the water!

    1. Dre Avatar

      Hi,

      How much raw garlic did you take, amd how often, and for how long?

      Many thanks

  9. Kila Howard Avatar
    Kila Howard

    I was just diagnosed today with mastitis. I stopped nursing 3years ago. Not sure how it happened. I’m in so much pain. Taking antibiotics and bought a box of emergen-c. Drinking water and cranberry juice. I will find out tomorrow if I need iv antibiotics.

    1. Dre Avatar

      Hi,

      Which antibiotic did you take, for how long, any side effects (thrush / candida). Did the mastitis clear?

      Many thanks

  10. Bhavna Avatar

    Hi,

    I am currently suffering from mastitis. This has happened the 2nd time in last 7 months. I have never been a mother, so definitely not breast feeding.
    I am quite worried as this has re-occured and seek help in treating it naturally and also taking preventive measures so that it dsnt occur the 3rd time.

    Please suggest.

  11. Jennifer Avatar

    I had mastitis when my son was 2 months old. It came on fast; sore spot on day 1, more sore & now raised on day 2 (I started massaging at this point), on day #3, I was in so much pain on the effected breast that I couldn’t touch it (i.e. no massage), spot was bright red, I had a fever, and was miserable. By day #4, my fever was gone, I could restart massage of my breast, and I could now function. It only improved from here.
    Here’s what I did:
    Day #3, I had started the following: Fenugreek capsules (the maximum suggested on the bottle, which was 2 capsules 4x/day), drinking the following mix every 2 hours during the day, & every 6 hours overnight: 3 cloves of raw garlic (pressed) & 1 dropperful of Echinacea tincture in 6 oz of carrot juice (this is from “The Green Pharmacy” by James A. Duke) (yes it tasted nasty but when you’re that bad-off who cares. I also found that the garlic could upset my stomach if I didn’t have a wee-bit of food in me when I ingested this mixture), warm compresses, massage when I could, nursing every 1-2 hours, napping throughout the day and generally relaxing. I didn’t know about cabbage leaves yet, but I here those work wonders.
    I basically attacked the situation, and was significantly relieved on day #4. I only kick myself for not taking it more seriously on day 1 & 2, but I’m a first time mom, what can I say, I didn’t recognize the problem until I was in misery.
    Good luck!

  12. Erin Avatar

    The problem with cabbage leaves ( here in Australia anyway) is that if they are not organic you could be placing a leave treated with nasty pesticide against your skin which may be absorbed and passed on to baby.

    I had the start of it several times and cured it naturally by using epsom salts and warm water – a friend of mine told me about it and I was sceptical but willing to try anything to help with it.

    Nursing regularly from the affected side, massage and hot towels also helped but to use the epsom salts simply make a heavily concentrated solution of about 1/2 cup epsom salts to 1.5-2 cups warm water and then ‘soak’ the affected breast several times a day for about 30 seconds each time. Miracle stuff and totally natural xx

  13. Barbara Avatar

    The only thing that cured my mastitis, was, a part from carrying on breast feeding regardless the pain, KEFIR! Nothing else. I had 40 degrees temperature one very hard and scary night, and the kefir soothed the pain, after managing to sleep, with baby next to me, the day after was gone, pain and temperature, which was weird, but sooo welcome.

  14. Kristen Avatar

    I don’t usually comment, but I’ve had more experience with mastitis than I would like to admit so I figured I would add my two cents. With my 1st child I had mastitis several times and was happy with the antibiotics prescribed (didn’t know any better). Second and third child I read up because I didn’t want to have to be on abx again if I got mastitis and I found that echinacea, vit C, garlic, propolis, all for immune boosting and abx properties and poke root for lymph drainage(2 drops daily only-too much can be toxic) worked well. Warm showers, massage, frequent nursing, and rest are all a must also. Had mastitis multiple times (too much milk) and never had to go on abx for it with this regime. Fourth child someone suggested Oregano Oil 3 drops upon first sign of mastitis. I found that putting the oregano oil in a capsule is the best way to take as it has quite the burning sensation. Also, follow it with an acidic juice (like OJ) to help with any burping that also causes some burning. I have to admit, I take a bit more than the 3 drops (like 1/2 capsule full as I really just want the pain to go away!) This has worked amazingly well each time. Continue the daily oregano until all sx gone. I still continue with above mentioned treatments for immune boosting and lymph drainage. Hope this helps! Mastitis is miserable and I don’t wish it on anyone!

  15. Krista Avatar

    I also suffered with a few cases of mastitis with my second and thankfully was recommended LECITHIN capsules by my midwife. The massage and heat compress (microwaved a water-filled diaper and wrapped in over breast – amazing! and stayed dry on outside so could even wear bra/shirt over!) also helped relieve some discomfort but I swear by the lecithin now! I was also nervous about the cabbage affecting my supply so avoided that too.

  16. Beatrice Wilby Avatar
    Beatrice Wilby

    I like your post even though it has been 16 years since I had mastitis. I had a very big baby girl 10lbs 10oz, and my body reacted as though I’d have twins and started to over-produce milk. I developed mastitis after a week and even now I remember how miserable I was. The thing was, here in the UK back then, because I insisted on continuing to breastfeed the doctors wouldn’t allow me to take antibiotics and no one seemed to be able to help with any homemade recipes. Mine went on for three weeks! It was a nightmare. The only relief I had was after nursing, and the massaging that you mentioned.

    But I had so much milk I had to stop nursing mid-feed and wait for the milk to stop spurting because the poor girl couldn’t drink fast enough. I was advised not to use a pump because that would make the body think that it needed all the milk it was producing so I had to wait for feeds for some slight relief or taking a warm bath, which helped to soothe other areas as well as causing lactation, which again helped. I would not love to repeat that experience but I persevered and eventually my body settled down and realised I only had one mouth to feed (lol). She’s sixteen now, 6 foot tall and pats me on the head and call me shortie!

    The affected breast is still quite lumpy but I’ve had several mammograms and they’ve been negative, fingers crossed.

    I find a few of the remedies you recommended very interesting and think they probably would have helped enormously back then, and I think for the mom who got scared about the cancer – we never know what can happen, we just have to learn to take things as they come and worry not of what might be or could have been. Talk to your doctor if you are stressing about it and perhaps they can do some tests to help ease your mind.

    Keep up the good work Wellness Mama. 🙂

  17. CAS Avatar

    I was just diagnosed with mastitis today. The only weird thing is that I haven’t nursed in 6 years, my son is now 9! I made it through nursing for 3 years without incident so it feels weird having this now. I was prescribed antibiotics (by someone who isn’t very natural minded) and generally I choose the natural path, I won’t even give my son antibiotics. But I’m tempted to take them because I eat very well, I actually juice raw garlic already, I don’t really have any way for a nursling to help clear a clogged duct – and since I’m way past nursing, I don’t even wants my ducts clear ;). It’s a mild case, so I don’t really need anything for the pain, although it is a little sore but tolerable. I already take daily supplements and epsom salt baths on the regular.

    So I guess my question is, being such a natural minded mama, if you were in my position, would you take the antibiotics? I feel I already do the natural remedies just as part of my daily routines, so I don’t even know how I ended up with this in the first place, haha. I want to stick to the natural route but I feel like I already was. Do you have any thoughts for someone in my situation or other suggestions on how to offset the damage of antibiotics? Obviously, you’re not a doctor, I have access to those, I’m looking for personal opinions amongst the like-minded crowd.

  18. Clara Avatar

    I’ve had mastitis with all three of my children to greater or lesser degrees. The natural remedies above work for me if I act fast. With my first child I ended up in the clinic for antibiotic shots four days strait, then a round of regular antibiotics for a week after that. This did the job but was followed by a nasty overgrowth of candida (yeast). Act fast and avoid this if you can is my advice. Good luck all, and happy nursing!

  19. Lins Avatar

    What if you’re trying to wean, but keep getting mastitis? Going slowly, only cutting out one feeding a week, but after a few days of cutting a feeding out, I keep getting mastitis, any suggestions?? Its happened 3 times now, and I’ve not been able to make any progress weaning…It’s so discouraging!

  20. jennie Avatar

    My milk would let down very often and in awkward places. Unknown baby crying at the grocery store meant wet shirt for me. Because I was trying to be economical I used washable breast pads, but I think they kept my breast too wet when I couldn’t change them quickly ( like the aforementioned store). I have not had an infection since switching to disposable breast pads. (I was having them once every month or two. Thanks for this great blog.

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