Prevention and Treatment of Mastitis: Natural Alternatives to Taking Antibiotics

antibiotics

As any breastfeeding mama can tell you, mastitis is one of the nastiest things to deal with. These infections (which stem from a clogged milk duct) can come on quickly, bringing with them raging fevers and achy, fluish feelings, as well as acute soreness and tenderness in the breast, particularly around the area of the clogged duct.

The common solution to mastitis (at least, for most doctors and even some midwives) is a strong dose of good ol’ antibiotics. Sure to clear up the angry bacteria around the site of infection, antibiotics will also do a (really bad) number on your overall digestive health and immune system function.

I have no problem with the use of antibiotics in truly necessary situations and am thankful to live in a time when we have emergency, life-saving medical interventions such as these. But, overuse of antibiotics is a raging problem in our culture and often prescribed at the drop of a hat, without much thought to the broader and long-term consequences.

Nursing my three babies over the years, I’ve had my share of both clogged ducts and mastitis infections. They are  definitely uncomfortable and inconvenient and, as with all infections, can grow much more seriously if left to fester. Mastitis is not something to be dealt with lightly, and yet there are definitely ways to treat it rapidly and thoroughly, but without the use of antibiotics.

First… a Few Words on Prevention

One of the best ways to treat mastitis is to not allow it to develop in the first place. Here are some important things to keep in mind for prevention’s sake:

Switch sides often and nurse thoroughly.

Try to make a point of switching which breast you start nursing with, and which one you finish with. By alternating sides like this, you ensure that both sides receive as close to equal sucking time as possible, which helps to keep them well drained. Also, allow baby to nurse as long as needed on a breast before switching. Baby will get all of the rich, creamy hindmilk (full of good fats), and you will not be left with excess milk that can cause clogging issues to begin with.

Don’t go too long between feeds.

By letting your baby nurse on demand, or on a flexible but fairly routine schedule, your body will adjust to make just the right amount of milk that baby requires. Allowing longer stretches than usual causes your breasts to become more engorged (which certainly isn’t comfortable anyways), and can contribute to ducts becoming plugged. If you must be away from your baby, bring a pump or at least take a few moments to hand-express some milk into a sink.

new mom and baby sleeping

Image by wintson & michelle

At the First Sign of Trouble

These 3 steps are among the most important things that you do can do, to treat an infection in the very early stages and prevent it from every becoming full blown.

While at a blogging conference this past summer, I could feel that less frequent nursing was causing some milk buildup, and I began to experience that familiar redness/soreness and could feel a lump where a duct was becoming blocked. By treating it with the steps below, within less than 12 hours the lump and soreness were gone and I had managed to sidestep an infection entirely!

1. Nurse, nurse, nurse. Do not shy away from nursing (even if it is somewhat painful). If you begin to feel a lump building up or experience some tenderness, put your baby to the breast as often as you can. The more you can nurse, the faster it will begin to clear up.

2. Massage. I feel as silly doing it as I do talking about it, but it really, truly works. Using two or three fingers, find the spot that feels hard or sore, and gently rub in a circular motion. Switch now and then from clockwise to counter-clockwise, and try moving your fingers slightly to massage from different angles. This helps to release the milk that has built up and is clogging the duct.

Massage should also be used while nursing. Nurse the baby on the side with the plugged duct, and as you do so, use your finger tips to massage in strokes that go down towards the nipple. Change angles often, and continue to do so as long as you can stand it. Do this every single time you nurse on that side.

3. Apply Heat. Applying heat, whether it be by taking a long, hot shower or simply by resting with a hot cloth or compress on your chest will make a huge difference. Combining massage with heat makes a very effective combination.

4. Rest. I’m bad for this myself, as I find it hard to actually lay down and rest or nap when I need to, but a breast infection is often a sign of pushing yourself too hard. Resting each time you nurse your baby, or taking naps as you are able to, will help speed recovery.

 

echinacea flowers

 

Image by kanegan

When It Is Time for Stronger Measures

Most infections can be avoided by taking the above action steps, but sometimes an infection gains ground quickly and these steps alone are not enough. The presence of  a fever and/or achiness that resembles the flu both indicate that the site has become infected.

There are many natural ways to encourage the body to fight off mastitis infections. Here are a few of them:

Things to take orally

Garlic: My top choice for a natural “antibiotic”, raw garlic is very effective in stimulating the immune system and having a strong antibacterial effect against infections. It does need to be raw to get the benefit from it. Try eating 2-5 cloves per day, as much as you can handle. Read more on garlic’s properties and uses here.

Poke Root: This herb has been long used as a treatment for sickness and pain, including specific use for breast pain by Native American Indians. It has antibiotic properties and stimulates the lymph system, for better drainage and to help clear out an infection. It can be used in a tincture form, but no more than 2 drops per day, as it is quite strong.

Echinacea: Another immune booster, echinacea root tincture is effective in mastitis treatment. In Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Years, Susan Weed recommends a dose of a 1/2 drop for every pound of body weight (so a 130 lb woman would take 65 drops). According to Kellymom.com, this dose can be taken up to 3-5 times per day. Susan Weed says even up to 12 times per day is fine and may be effective.

cabbage leaves

Image by thedeliciouslife

Things to use externally

Cabbage leaves: You have probably heard of this remedy for engorgement when your milk first comes, but it is also an effective treatment for infection. It is particularly effective when used at the first signs of trouble, but will continue to help once an infection is underway.

Place a cool cabbage leaf inside your bra, directly against your breast. Leave it for an hour or two, then remove. You can do this multiple times throughout the day, but don’t leave it on continually as it could eventually affect milk supply (although using it for a couple of days on and off will have no adverse effects).

Poultice/Compress: I mentioned above the use of heat, and any hot compress applied to the breast will be helpful. The addition of a herbal poultice will also help to encourage healing of the infection. A few herbs to consider: Comfrey, Calendula, Rosemary, Dandelion, Marshmallow root. Apply to the skin (with a hot compress or cloth is best) for 5-10 minutes, as many as 3 to 6 times a day. Take the opportunity to do this while you are resting– see, there’s that “R” word again!

Resources for Mastitis

Natural Remedies for Problems in Breastfeeding, Part 2 by Susan. S. Weed @ StorkNet (I thought this article was the most helpful)

Natural Treatments for Nursing Moms and Recurrent Mastitis or Plugged Ducts @ kellymom.com

Mastitis Treatment @ Family Herbal Remedies

Have you dealt with mastitis or plugged milk ducts? What solutions and remedies were most helpful for you?

Top image by Steven Cummings
Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links.

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. I myself had the misfortune of naively dealing with a nasty mastitis infection. I didn’t realize what it was until I had a fever all day accompanied by a terribly painful and red swollen half of my breast. My midwife immediately put me on antibiotics which I was reluctant to take, but assumed I had no other alternative. It was three days later that I found natural antibiotic remedies and treatments on line. I imediateley discontinued use and started a regiment of 3 raw garlic cloves in a Tbls of coconut oil for two days(the coconut oil really made if go down so much easier). Then I finally got my essential oil of oregano and started on a heavy dose of that carried in Greek unfiltered olive oil. Starting with 5 drops, working my way up to 10 drops a day. In combination with my warm compresses, massage and continued breastfeeding, my fist size mastitis had completely dissapeared without a trace in a mater of less then a weak. Though it had dissapeared, I continued my regiment for another few days or so just to be on the safe side and I did not get sick or relapse afterwards. The danger of stopping any antibiotic early is that your immune system is weakened to the point of incapability of fighting off infection, so this often times leads to relapse. I avoided this naturally and will never make that same mistake again in the future. I immediately felt less fatigue and had great results using this method.

  2. Thanks for this info! Another great thing is homeopathy! I have had two breast infections within the last month. Both times i used a combination of homeopathic remedies for quick relief.

  3. My problem is that we are out of town and I don’t have access to those remedies and I have been pumping the infected breast because of puss, and I can’t get anything out. No more than an ounce or 2 in 10 minutes where usually I get 4-5 oz in 5 minutes. I have been soaking and using massage. I am now running a 102 fever with no relief in sight other than nasty antibiotics & doubling up in probiotics to prevent thrush. Any suggestions?

    • Shannan- I’m so sorry to hear about that. I’m traveling, too, and have dev’t symptoms but started treatment before the fever kicked in.

      I hope you went ahead and tried everything Stephanie suggested but if you ended up on antibiotics just remember to work with your body to get its bacterial balance back up to normal asap. There’s nothing crummier than having to postpone celebrating getting over mastitis because you (and kid/s) are in a prolonged cycle of thrush & yeast infections as a result of antibiotic treatment.

      Good luck & good health!

  4. Hello! Your blog is wonderfully full of information. The exact information I’ve been seeking. I came down with Mastitis as the result of a few very bad clogged ducts I had been desperately trying to unclog for a few days. In desperation I started the antibiotics my dr prescribed. I am on day 5 of 10. My question is, can I successfully cure mastitis by stopping the antibiotic and starting a homeopathic treatment at this point? I hate antibiotics and am so worried of the effects it may have on my infant. Help! I also think I’ve gotten thrush as a result :( I would greatly appreciate some advice ASAP. Thank you!!!
    Melissa

  5. I have 6 children. With my first 4 I never had issues with clogged ducts or mastitis. Baby #5 was my first experience with mastitis. Wow, it took me by surprise. It’s something you never forget. I was 42 when I had baby #6 with lots of extended breasting years already under my belt. For the first several months I had no problems. Then when I entered the phase where my breasts no longer leaked and the let down sensation was hardly noticeable, my breasts began to clog. It could be a too tight bra or too long between feeding or compressing my breast during sleep, issues that I never worried about before. Then coincidently for other reasons, I decided to go on a no sugar, vegan diet for 3 months. During this time I had no clogged ducts! But the holiday season was upon me and I decided to go back to my old ways of eating from Thanksgiving until after the new year. Soon after, the clogged ducts returned. Though a nuisance, I dealt with them, but it didn’t motivate me sufficiently to get back to vegan/no sugar eating, not with all the dinner parties and “yummy” food to be had. One particular day, it was already past the new year, I ate lots of unhealthy food, I even had SODA and several pieces of chocolate cake with ice cream. My baby had a mild cold at the time. The next morning I woke with mastitis. It progressed to a worse mastitis than I had with baby #5. I felt deathly ill. That did it for me, I resolved that day to get back to healthy eating. I’m convinced that my body can’t handle poor nutrition choices like I could in my younger days. And a vegan/no sugar diet ensures I eat well.

  6. Hi Ladies, I had my second baby almost 8 months ago now and I suffered with Mastitis with my daughter 6 years ago and again with my son within the first 2 weeks of feeding him back in April 2012. I had all the usual symptoms and was really ill with fever, breast engorgement, hot hot breasts and revolting flu symptoms. I tried to rest, fed constantly through the pain and ended up having to go to the doctor and take antibiotics. To my dismay I had another 3 cases of mastitis over the next 4 months and during a further 3 cases I had to take antibiotics. I was so worried about this, because I was feeding my baby at the same time and conscious that he was getting the antibiotic through my milk. Then one day, I was at a weekly breastfeeding group and a mum mentioned as she was leaving to try cranberry juice and that someone had mentioned it to her. I was so desperate I went and bought 4 litres straight away and literally drank it constantly over the next 24 hours. I also started doing some research into it and realised that this may be the answer to tackling it at the very first sight of symptoms. I then spoke to a relative who suffers severely from urinary infections and when I mentioned it to her, she said her Naturopath has her on concentrated Cranberry tablets everyday to help prevent any infection and she said the results have been incredible. I immediately went to my local organic shop to see if they had any concentrated juice that was sugar free as the ordinary juice at the supermarket is much more diluted and full of sugar. I bought a few bottles of the concentrate (it wasn’t cheap, but I figured if I didn’t get rid of the mastitis i’d end up giving up feeding, buying formula and that was much more expensive, so it was worth it for the health of my baby). The results were amazing for me. I went from getting a regular bout of symptoms and thinking “oh no, here we go again”, to getting a mild version of the symptoms and then hitting the concentrated juice and by the next morning….GONE! I was fine. Honestly, I can not stress enough how this has worked for me. James is now 8 months and i’m still feeding him. I do think I am someone who was prone to Mastitis, but the problems were really only in the establishing phase when I had sooo much milk and baby started to go longer between feeds, so there was a lot of milk sitting in my ducts waiting for him to feed and the problem went from there. So, what is this magic concoction called: I’d visit Holland & Barratt. They have a triple strength Cranberry Tablet or concentrated juice. Visit: http://www.hollandandbarratt.com and type in Cranberry Concentrated tablets. I would go as far to say that if you are planning on breastfeeding, then buy the juice and have it at home just incase you are hit with symptoms. Mastitis is horrible and it comes at a time when you are exhausted, up all night feeding and the last thing you need is to get sick on top of this. It’s a really hard time already, so if you can help yourself prevent it, then order this stuff today. Also remember that if you do go onto Antibiotics and i’d be surprised if you don’t, then your baby is getting that in his system and I know James suffered a lot with diarrhea. I’ve suggested Holland and Barratt if you’re in the UK as you can order online or get it in the stores, but any extra strength cranberries will do the job i’m sure. Good Luck and Happy Feeding !!!!

  7. I have had mastitis when my son was born.it was a nightmare that lasted for months. My mastitis was so bad and was not treated properly with the right dosage of antibiotics. It created a big abscess in my breast that I had to go to hospital for 2 months every single week in order to drain it. You have to be extra careful if you have the mastitis and make sure it is completely gone when you are done your treatment. Now I am pregnant with my second child and so worried that I would have mastitis again!

  8. Just wanted to add my comment to the bunch… I had mastitis and plugged ducts on and off for 6 months. It was BRUTAL. It would go away for a few days, or so it seemed, and come back with a vengeance. I tried all the above natural remedy’s and nothing was able to get rid of it completely… until I did some research and found that Lecithin can treat plugged ducts. Most Lecithin comes from soy, so I didn’t want to take a supplement, but I found out it’s also an ingredient in egg yolks. I started eating 2-3 free-run organic egg yolks (raw) every day. It worked!! Got rid of my plugged ducts and it was never an issue again! Supposedly Lecithin is also helpful in general breast health preventing breast cancer.

  9. I was plagued with mastitis with all three of my kids–the first one, didn’t know any better and took antibiotics over and over, causing digestive issues for my baby, up screaming at night, more fatigue, more mastitis…

    By the second, I worked with a midwife for the birth, and she had me using echinacea, rest and hot compresses. Although I had it frequently and it included fever and aches, at least I got over them quickly and without causing such issues for my baby. Also, discovered that I was able to stay well easier when I ate more protein, so I started ending my day with a protein rich snack.

  10. i had mastitis 3 times with my first son, but only 1 clogged duct with my 2nd. the differance for me was in my bra. i had so many problems while using a cheap nursing bra with an underwire. i finally invested in a good bra with no underwire and didn’t have problems.

    also, for a good moist heat, you can fold a hand towel or wash cloth in half & sew shut with 1-2 cups of uncooked long grain rice inside. microwave it and it’s an amazing heat pack!

  11. thank you for a great list. I am adding this to next week’s sunday surf

  12. Thanks for the info…I came here because I am a 49 year old woman not nursing, and yet I feel I have mastitis in one breast….I had it with almost all six of my children while nursing…I used most of what you pointed out in this post and I am going to try it again….the cabbage was always my saving grace. I also know to go to the doctor if I can’t get this under control.
    Thanks…I will save this blog for my daughter-in-law also!

  13. I’m past my baby days now, but I currently have a sebaceous cyst between my breasts. I have been taking the antibiotics pictured above in the caption, as well as soaking it with hot compresses. I appreciate all the helpful hints given in this post as well as by you readers. I have no doubt that they will bring me relief with my problem as well.

    God’s timing just tickles me sometimes!
    Shyla @ http://nourishingstrength.blogspot.com/
    Last post – Time and Space and Imagination

  14. Good article! One thing I didn’t see mentioned, though, was nursing the baby in a position that allows his/her chin to be pointed toward the plugged duct. This is one of the tips I’ve picked up in my job as a breastfeeding peer counselor. Sometimes you may have to lie down in one direction with the baby lying the opposite direction to accomplish this.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] More helpful tried and true natural remedies for mastitis can be found in this article. [...]

  2. [...] it work?: In “Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Years” by herbalist Susan Weed, an echinacea root tincture is recommended for mastitis. However, as pregnant women with colds are well aware, remedies with echinacea (like Cold FX) are [...]

  3. [...] it work?: In “Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Years” by herbalist Susan Weed, an echinacea root tincture is recommended for mastitis. However, as pregnant women with colds are well aware, remedies with echinacea (like Cold FX) are [...]

  4. [...] it work?: In “Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Years” by herbalist Susan Weed, an echinacea root tincture is recommended for mastitis. However, as pregnant women with colds are well aware, remedies with echinacea (like Cold FX) are [...]

  5. [...] it work?: In “Wise Woman Herbal for a Childbearing Years” by herbalist Susan Weed, an echinacea base whiff is endorsed for mastitis. However, as profound women with colds are good aware, remedies with echinacea (like Cold FX) are [...]

  6. [...] times? Yikes! I have never had it but here is a site that has some good stuff throughout the page Prevention and Treatment of Mastitis: Natural Alternatives to Taking Antibiotics Reply With Quote « Previous Thread | Next Thread [...]