7 Tried and Tested Mastitis Remedies That Worked for Me
Few breastfeeding challenges are more sudden or painful than mastitis. Unfortunately, mastitis and I go way back. I had two tongue-tied babies, both of whom had trouble latching properly, and I endured several sprees of recurrent mastitis. I can remember being held down, delirious with fever, screaming in pain, by three women who latched my baby for me and kept him feeding to try to get the blockage out.
I tried everything to cure mastitis, from drugs to home remedies. Here’s what I learned and the solutions that worked for me.
What Causes Mastitis?
Mastitis is an inflammation caused by a blocked milk duct. It’s characterised by a red patch on the breast, breast pain and flu-like symptoms. Your milk can get backed up for various reason:
- Your baby’s latch could be ineffective, so it doesn’t clear all the milk.
- You could go a prolonged period between feeds due to separation of mother and baby, initiating routine feeds, or sudden breast refusal or weaning.
- One of your milk ducts could be compressed by too-tight clothing or underwired bras.
If the mastitis is related to latching issues, then these need to be addressed first. Sometimes ‘laid back’ positions can help you achieve a deeper latch. If you have consistent issues latching, get support from a Breastfeeding Counsellor for ideas and to rule out an underlying cause such as tongue tie. If you have an older baby, you may just need to pay extra attention when latching, particularly if they are teething or going through a developmental leap.
But sometimes, a mastitis case has a deeper cause. Often, it’s a physical expression of an underlying emotion. Mothers tend to get it when they feel run down and that they have given too much of themselves. In our culture, breastfeeding is considered ‘draining’ on the mother, and the nuclear family is expected to function without outside help. It’s easy for mothers to start feeling burdened.
One way to work on this is to shift your focus from how much you are giving (or how few of your own needs are being met), to an attitude of receiving. When you breastfeed, pay particular attention to being present and really receiving your baby’s love. Can you remember how intensely you loved your mother as a small child? Your child is giving you that much love all the time, especially when they feel connected to you during breastfeeding. It’s easy to miss this when you’re caught up with all the chores that need doing, so make sure you are receiving as much love as you are giving. Babies give love through their unwavering eye contact and gentle caressing of your skin. Allow yourself to fully enjoy how happy your baby becomes when they are breastfeeding.
How Can You Treat Mastitis?
A mastitis inflammation can turn into infective mastitis, which is a bacterial infection with exactly the same symptoms that can be treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, antibiotics (which are usually the first port of call for GPs) can lead to other breastfeeding issues such as thrush. You can’t be certain whether antibiotics are the appropriate treatment without sending off a milk sample for analysis. But there are many other ways to treat mastitis that don’t impact your gut health, so it’s worth giving them a go before contacting a GP.
Here are seven tried and tested home remedies for mastitis that I’ve found effective:
- Rest. Stop what you are doing. Find someone to take care of your kids. Go directly to bed. Do not stop at the washing up/laundry monster/playroom floor. You get mastitis when you are run down and feeling burdened, and if you ignore the signals, your body will soon enforce bed rest by developing the shakes, a high fever and delirium. You can go from fine to shivering in less than half an hour, so don’t try to finish one more thing. Rest now.
- Support your immune system by dosing up on (good quality, food-sourced) Vitamins C, D and B, and magnesium. These support your body as it works to eliminate toxins.
- Try supplements such as fish oils or a medicine like ibuprofen, both of which are anti-inflammatory. You can also take soy lecithin, which is an emulsifier and helps break down the fat in the blockage.
- Take 30c of homeopathic phytolacca and belladonna every couple of hours.
- Keep feeding frequently to shift the blockage — otherwise you risk the block developing into an abscess. The most effective position is to point the baby’s chin toward the blockage, even if that means having your baby feeding from over your shoulder. Or you can opt for the somewhat less glamorous dangling position (where you lie your baby flat on their back and kneel over them with the sore part aligned to their chin) which also uses gravity to aid the release of the blockage. My firstborn’s midwife, Jane Evans, suggested that the best way to clear a blocked duct is to use your partner’s powerful adult suck. (It’s a rare man who will suck a mouthful of blood and pus, but I can vouch that they do exist!) If your baby is not interested in feeding or is unable to latch effectively, you need to express as much as possible, using gentle massage, warm flannels or a hot shower.
- Use naturopathic treatments such as a castor oil, potato or tumeric compress. Follow up with an Epsom salt soak, which can effectively draw out the blockage. These treatments are also good for a blocked duct or bleb (a small milk “blister” in the end of the nipple).
- Wear cabbage leaves. Crush them a little to get the juices out, then place inside your bra.
If you’re suffering recurrent episodes of mastitis, you may need to do some deeper work to shift it. Working on your inner child can help, particularly if the needs of your inner child are being triggered by you having to meet those of your real life child. I managed to end a severe bout of recurring cases by doing a Family Constellations workshop, in which I discovered how my grandmother had never wanted to be a mother or felt that she was up to the job. You may also need to rearrange your life so that your duties are manageable and there is space to slow down.
The good news is, you can end recurrent bouts of mastitis. If you listen to your body and try to discover the deeper cause, mastitis can be the catalyst that teaches you to be more balanced, practice self-care, and remember the joyful aspects of breastfeeding.