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. Kianna Avatar

    Does it matter what kind of cabbage you use? (ie: red vs green cabbage?)

  2. Marissa Avatar
    Marissa

    I just recovered from mastitis using raw garlic, massage, heat and rest. It was not fun, but the garlic was the life saver!

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