Methods to Treat Mastitis at Home
The early days of parenting are bound to be physically exhausting: While adjusting to the presence of a tiny, new human; you’re also adjusting to a wild new sleep schedule; one-handed “meals”; and entirely new bodily functions. In that kind of state, it’s pretty easy to let the early signs of mastitis go unnoticed.
Mastitis is breast tissue inflammation that, if left untreated too long, can cause flu-like symptoms and bacterial infection. Read on to learn how to spot mastitis symptoms, methods to treat mastitis at home, and when to seek medical attention.
What Causes Mastitis?
When milk starts to back up and collect in a particular area of your breast (or breasts), your breast tissue can become infected. Bacteria can also enter your breast tissue through cracked nipples and cause an infection that way. Other causes of mastitis include stress, oversupply, weaning your baby too soon, or excessive pressure on your breasts.
Given its many causes, it’s no wonder that 1 in 10 lactating parents develops mastitis.
What are the symptoms of mastitis?
Mastitis symptoms can include pain, swelling, warmth, and redness in your breast; a hard lump in your breast tissue; unusual nipple discharge; decreased milk production in your affected breast; and flu-like symptoms such as chills, aches, exhaustion, and fever. Symptoms can develop quickly, so if you feel unwell, pay attention.
What are the risk factors?
You’re more likely to get mastitis if you’ve had it before, or if you have cracked nipples. Likewise, you could be more vulnerable if you regularly wear a tight bra, if you smoke, or if your baby isn’t latching properly.
Mastitis Treatment at Home
These methods could help you clear up mastitis at home before it progresses into a more serious infection, but if the following techniques do not remedy your blockage within 24-48 hours, call your doctor or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant right away.
Increase Breastfeeding Frequency
Breastfeed your baby at least every two hours. Because babies suck harder at the beginning of a feeding session, start with the affected breast to try dislodging the blockage (but offer both sides so your other breast doesn’t become engorged). And don’t worry: Your milk is still safe for your baby to consume.
As best as you can, try to stay in bed and enlist the help of a loved one to take care of your daily tasks so you can focus on healing.
Try a Different Feeding Position
Changing your hold will change the angle of your baby’s suction, which could further assist in dislodging a clog. Not sure which position to try? This article walks you through some great options.
OTC Pain Relievers
Check with your IBCLC to find out which over-the-counter medications are safe for lactating parents. While you shouldn’t have to suffer through pain and flu symptoms, it’s always best to check with a medical professional before ingesting any drug while lactating.
Ready for a weird one? Pressing cold cabbage leaves against your clogged duct can reduce pain and swelling. While the science on why cabbage leaves are effective remains a little murky (scientists think the glucosinolates, enzymes, and isothiocyanates in cabbage have anti-inflammatory properties), many parents have used this mastitis remedy with success.
Here’s how to do it:
- Refrigerate clean, dry green cabbage leaves and cut them to fit the shape of your breast.
- Cover your entire breast with the leaves, except your nipple. You can also insert cabbage leaves into a loose-fitting bra.
- After about 20 minutes, remove the leaves and dispose of them. Wash and gently dry your breasts. Repeat up to three times daily.
Hot Compress or Shower
Heat can also loosen up a plugged duct. You can take a warm shower or apply a compress in between cabbage leaf applications.
While feeding your baby, apply firm pressure with your thumb above the affected area and make your way towards the nipple. Or massage your breasts in the bath or shower by moving your fingers in a downward motion towards your nipple, then try to hand express to relieve the blockage.
Eat Garlic and Vitamin C
Consider adding more raw garlic and Vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, red peppers, kiwis, and broccoli to your diet to get their antimicrobial, wound-healing benefits.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Your hydration needs are higher when you’re lactating. Drinking more water increases your milk supply, and more feeding sessions equate to more opportunities to clear mastitis.
When to See a Medical Professional
If, after 1-2 days of self-treating your mastitis, you still have symptoms—contact your doctor or IBCLC. They can recommend a lactation-safe medication (likely an antibiotic) that will help you heal. Without treatment, an infection could turn into an abscess, which could hinder your ability to breastfeed in the future.
Although you’re likely fixated on your baby’s needs, remember to pay attention to your own! If you are seeking an expert to call in these types of situations, request a lactation consultation today. An IBCLC can give you the care you deserve.
*Illustrations by Jesse Zhang