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. Taylor Avatar
    Taylor

    Thanks for the tips!!!! I am going to try ASAP to prevent it getting worse

  2. Clara Avatar

    Looking for advice wellness mamma! I gave birth 6 days ago to a beautiful little surrogate baby, this was my 2nd time being a surrogate mother but this time around I decided not to pump for personal reasons (pumping is hard!) So I thought as long as I didn’t stimulate my breasts my milk wouldn’t come in. Boy I was so wrong! Yesterday I felt kinda run down, but I’m a mom and things needed to get done! Well by the end of the night my breasts felt huge,hurt,and I noticed a huge ball. Having once delt with mastitis before 8 years ago me and my husband new I just needed to get the milk out. So he so kindly hand expressed and massaged both of my breasts for me and tons and tons of milk came out (felt like such a waste of liquid gold) :'( Now this morning I still dont feel great and I’m horribly dizzy. I do plan on doing everything you suggested, but considering I dont have a baby to feed and dont wish to continue to have milk, how can I help to get the mastitis out and prevent further milk production at the same time? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  3. Brittany Poland Avatar
    Brittany Poland

    I have mastitis but I don’t breastfeed or pump and I had my daughter a week ago What should I do

  4. Bethani Avatar

    Two kids….MANY MANY cases of clogged ducts where I spiked a fever and a couple cases of mastitis. #1 remedy. ..raw apple cider vinegar!!! Take it immediately. Then apply heat and nurse and massage. This has cleared up all my clogs in less than a day except one that was so bad I had to take raw garlic to clear it up and I completely lost my milk supply on one side and had to do many sessions of power pumping to restore it. But I swear by the acv as soon as you feel the clog!! It’s been the miracle cure for the many many clogs with fevers I’ve had since then! I take 2-4 tbsps a day when it happens and it really does clear right up!

  5. Stephanie Cole Avatar
    Stephanie Cole

    Mastitis really is no joke. Thankyou for these home remedies. Mums can use this for future reference.

  6. Mel Avatar

    What happened to the ACV.. wasn’t that in this list at one point?

  7. Stephanie Avatar
    Stephanie

    Wonderful, thanks for the information. I definitely had an understanding that it does not infect the milk. It will probably safe for the babies.

  8. Stephanie Cole Avatar
    Stephanie Cole

    This natural remedies for Mastitis are so helpful. this should be applied to help ease the pain.

  9. Eli Avatar

    I take powdered turmeric and honey every two hours for a day and it works like a charm! I also compress with camomile tea.
    Thanks for the info

  10. Breanne Avatar

    Thanks for the post. I had mastitis so bad 2 months ago had an abses that needs to be drained. Another one formed and I did caster oil compress along with zinc and vit c and it went away. Thank god. I would not wish that on anyone.

  11. Hannah Avatar

    I’ve had clogged ducts MANY times and thankfully I’ve been able to avoid mastitis all but 3 of those times. The best trick I’ve found is Castor oil. You take a tsp and massage it onto the clogged area, avoiding the nipple. Apply moist heat for 20 minutes and then nurse and massage the clog towards the nipple. I’ve never had a clog last longer than. A few hours since using this method! Once it’s mastitis, I do the castor oil as well as the things wellness mama mentioned. Castor oil is the BEST to get rid of it FAST. BC who has time to have mastitis??

  12. Noelle Avatar

    Any advice? I am 12 weeks pregnant and just weaned my almost 2 year old 2 weeks ago. I woke up this morning with a painful lump in my right breast. I squeezed it and a yellow green thick milk came out. I’m doing cabbage leaves but I don’t want to pump or restart nursing. Are the recommendations safe for a pregnant woman? All the garlic, the letchin, etc? I’ve had mastitis 3 times with this little one and don’t want to go through it again.

  13. Jennifer Moya Avatar
    Jennifer Moya

    I 100% second Poke Root or anything with it!! It is amazing when it comes to mastitis or plugged milk ducts!!! If you happen to find the tincture it is extremely potent and literally requires 1-3 drops! So be aware!!

  14. Katy Avatar

    I used several hot compresses in a row, layed baby down on the bed and nursed, bent over the bed, breast “hanging” while massaging. Gravity works wonders! Very uncomfortable, but gone after that feeding. This was for a very painful clogged duct, no fever so I guess it wasn’t mastitus.

  15. Amber Avatar

    So are you now still recommending green pastures fermented cod liver oil? I don’t recall seeing a follow up from you after you mentioned your family would not be taking it for a while after the accusations. Just curious.

  16. Cort Avatar

    I had mastitis with my daughter I used rolled oats,raw garlic and sea salt mixed all ingredients together with some water to cook the oats and place the mixtures on the infected area then wrapped it with plastic wrap and used an old sick filled it with rice and threw that in the microwave to hear it up. Then I placed the sock on top of my wrapped breast with oatmeal mixture and rested for about 45 mins. I did this for 3 days and the infection was gone. Mean while I continued to breast feed and drink plenty of water.

  17. mandisa Avatar

    Hi my name is mandisa my second born is 8month old , the first child didn’t have a proble my breasts looked like I didn’t breast feed but this time my left breast became very hard I tried everything hot bath ,cabbage leaves but didn’t work . I went to the doctor after 3month he told me that its milk blocked on my breast then he drained the milk and my breast was ok for few days ,I noticed that it is growing again then I bought pills to stop formulation of milk but it didn’t work, again it is hard like a rock and now I am starting to feel pain , please help am I supposed to drain again will it ever stop making milk

  18. robin simpson Avatar
    robin simpson

    my daughter has mastitis for the second time in a month. Of course standard treatment is A/B which causes Thrush, with Probotics. she is refusing to take the a/b this time. she is miserable and with a 3 month old and a 2 year old – resting much is not always an option.

  19. Tricia Avatar

    I have not had mastitis but I climb in the back seat and lean over the car seat and nurse the baby while we drive. I have also used a hand pump and pumped a bottle and reached back and gave it to my baby. Just a couple ideas to empty your breasts without stopping the car….

  20. Nicole Avatar

    Curious about the cod liver oil and probiotics.

    1. Is there a reason why you got the liquid over a capsule? Cinnamon over chocolate?

    2. Do you take this probiotic linked with another? It seems the linked probiotic is more of a prebiotic?
    Thanks :))

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