10 Natural Remedies & Tips for Treating Mastitis

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Mastitis — aka hell on earth for new moms. It seems like mastitis is almost a rite of passage for mamas after a new baby is born. I myself got it about a month after my daughter was born and was able to kick it without going on antibiotics. I tried so many different natural mastitis remedies and was so lucky they helped — I was able to kick it within two days.

I chose to treat it naturally because 1) My new health insurance hadn’t kicked in so I didn’t really have a choice and 2) I desperately wanted to avoid thrush (a yeast infection of the breast, that your baby can get inside their mouth). Now, I recommend treating it naturally as soon as you feel symptoms coming on and then see your doctor within a day or two if they aren’t getting better or are getting worse, and if you have a fever of 101 or more that isn’t going away.

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What is Mastitis?

Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that makes you feel like you have the flu on steroids.

Mastitis Causes

Breastfeeding is usually the culprit. It’s caused by milk duct that gets clogged, which then results in a backup of milk in the ducts. This happened to me when my baby was going through a growth spurt and falling asleep at the breast within a few minutes, or just after one breast. Waking her up was near impossible, so I resorted to block feeding. This made me get mastitis in my left breast.

You can also get mastitis if your baby isn’t sucking or latching correctly, prefers one boob over the other, or if your feedings have decreased, like when weaning or when baby starts sleeping through the night.

Stress and doing too much can also cause mastitis. So take it easy when you can, mama!

Mastitis Symptoms

I first knew I was getting mastitis when I started having the worst chills of my life. They were violent, and came on so suddenly (as mastitis does). My boob felt like it was on fire, and I was sweating like crazy.

Your breast will usually become swollen (this is due to the inflammation protecting the infection from spreading to other parts of your body, you may have a “hot spot” on it where it feels hot, and redness that is wedge-shaped and points toward your nipple. You also might have body aches.

Natural Mastitis Remedies

I will always turn to natural remedies first. However, I am in no way saying this is THE right way, and I am not a doctor so I suggest that if you think you have mastitis, to get in touch with your doctor as soon as you feel you need to based off of your symptoms. Mastitis comes on VERY quickly and you might not feel pain get, so it’s good to start some natural remedies while you wait to see your doctor. Here are the natural mastitis remedies that worked for me:

    1. DRINK WATER. You need to stay hydrated, especially with the fever. I was constantly drinking water, and probably drank around 200 ounces a day. I’m convinced this is something that helped get my fever down. It will also help keep your supply up. More milk = more to flush out the infection.
    1. Cabbage leaves on your breast. I know, it sounds soooo weird. But it works! And provides so much relief.  They work best when chilled, so stick a head of cabbage in the refrigerator before using. Make sure the leaves are washed before placing on your breast. Simply place a larger piece over your infected breast, or a few smaller pieces — as long as it’s covered. You can leave them there or where a loose bra. Keep them on until wilted — usually about 20 minutes.
      Repeat as often as needed, but be aware that too much cold on the breast can decrease your milk supply. A friend recommended putting the leaves in the freezer so they are extra cold, but I found that to be too cold and kind of hurt — I couldn’t keep them on for very long.
    1. NURSE. Keep nursing!!! This is one of the best things you can do for your mastitis. The milk can’t get past the clogged duct if it isn’t expressed — either by baby, pumping, or hand expression. Feed from the infected breast until it feels soft each time, and be sure not to neglect the other breast so it doesn’t get infected too. The milk from the infected breast won’t harm your baby.
    1. Dangle feed. This can be tricky, but the gravity helps draw the milk out. Put the baby on the floor or your bed (I found the floor easier because it was harder than my soft bed), and get on all fours above baby. Continue to nurse with the infected breast, dangling above baby. Even if you can only do it for 5 minutes.
    1. REST. Rest as much as you possibly can. Stay in bed! When I had mastitis, I pretty much just nursed and slept.
    1. Break your fever. I was able to break my fever by bundling up (sweats, sweatshirt) under two sets of covers during a nap.
    1. Take lecithin. Lecithin is commonly used as a food additive to keep some ingredients from separating out can help decrease the viscosity (stickiness) of the milk by increasing the percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk. It can be found in common foods such as egg yolks and soybeans, but I take a sunflower lecithin supplement. If I feel mastitis coming on (pain in the breast, lumps or a plugged duct) I usually just take one 1200 mg dose. But you can take that dose up to four times a day.
    1. Eat raw garlic. According to Kelly Mom, “Raw garlic acts as a broad-spectrum antibiotic, without the added antibiotic side effects of the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, or the development of yeast infections or thrush.” You can ingest one to five raw cloves of garlic daily, according to Draxe.com.
      I don’t suggest just eating it straight, though. It’s very intense! I put mine chopped up in a quinoa salad with a few other ingredients, and even that was pretty spicy. I’ve heard of other moms making it into a spread and putting it on a toasted baguette.
      Warning: You will sweat it out. Be prepared (and prepare your significant other) to smell like garlic for a couple of days. And if you’re worried about it changing the taste of your milk, you’ll probably be OK. My baby didn’t seem to notice a difference, and if there was one, she didn’t mind it.
    1. Take a hot shower. This will help create more milk flow, so be sure to do it right before nursing so as to not get it stuck with the blocked milk. During the shower, you can also massage your breast to get the duct unplugged and stimulate that milk flow. If you know how to hand express, this would be a good time to do it.
    1. Use a warm compress. You can simply put a warm washcloth on your breast right before or as you nurse. Or, you can try a castor oil compress.

How to Prevent Mastitis

  • Avoid tight fitting bras and shirts. Along with decreased/block feeding, I’m pretty sure I was wearing a bra that was too tight.
  • Try these natural mastitis remedies at the first sign of a plugged/clogged duc
  • Breastfeed often. Feeding on demand is best. Try to get the baby to empty the breast as much as possible — you will most likely never fully “empty” your breast, but get as much milk out as possible. Have them empty at least one of the breasts as much as possible, and then be sure to have them feed from the opposite side at the beginning of the next feed. If your baby falls asleep or seems full but you still feel milk inside, pump or use a milk catcher/saver such as the Haakaa breast pump.

    Don’t worry too much, though. If you’re just starting out breastfeeding, your supply will adjust to your baby’s needs. Our bodies are amazing! 

  • Switch up your breastfeeding positions. I usually cradle hold, but I also like the football.
  • Don’t sleep on  your stomach! I really try to avoid this, especially since I’m on the larger size. As tempting as it is because of your inability to do it while pregnant, it can compress your breasts and cause blockages.

Keep the Faith, Mama

Mastitis can feel debilitating, especially if you’re still recovering from birth. Make sure you have some sort of support system in place, try these natural mastitis remedies, and snuggle with that sweet baby as much as possible. There is an end in sight!