We were in the NICU about a week after the girls were born, and I asked to see the lactation consultant to see if she could help me. Two came in that day; one helped me get sized for new flanges for the breast pump (they were cushioned! Oh luxury!) and worked with me to try and unclog the duct using heat and massage. The other lactation consultant took one look at my sad, engorged breasts and said, "Call imaging, now! We have to get her in for ultrasound therapy, immediately!"
Well, it was Friday afternoon at 4pm. Let's just say that the imaging people were less than helpful. I didn't get in. So I went back to the properly-fitting pump flanges, hot compresses and massage for the next few days, trying to keep my breasts as empty as possible. Luckily, I was able to stay one step ahead of it before it turned into full-blown mastitis. Phew!
There are many causes of breast infection (mastitis is the clinical term), and can range from incorrect latch to restrictive clothing, or from engorgement due to oversupply or too long between feedings. Pumping moms need to be sure they have the correctly-sized pump flanges. For moms who struggle with recurrent infection, KellyMom suggests checking into potential food allergies.
Prevention is Key
The key is to catch it early. If you feel achy, feverish, and have a clogged milk duct (feels like a lump in your breast that will become tender to the touch, sometimes radiating heat or red streaks), get on top of it quickly. Untreated, it can lead to abscesses and that is a big problem.
It's also important to be extra diligent during the first three months after your baby is born and your body is working hard to produce and regulate your milk supply.
The ideal is to avoid it in the first place, by:
- Allowing baby to empty the first breast before switching. This lessens your chances of having excess milk build up that can become a problem.
- Feed on demand, not by a rigid schedule. Your body will regulate your milk production to meet the exact needs of your baby. It's amazing!
- Drink more water and nourish yourself with good food and rest. Stress and exhaustion can take a little case of inflammation into a full blown illness very quickly. According to Susun S. Weed, "Breast infections are almost always a sign of too little rest."
- Wear nursing bras that fit properly without restriction and avoid clothing that puts too much pressure on your breasts.
- See a board-certified lactation consultant to check latch and positioning.
According to KellyMom, "these treatments should be used in addition to your efforts to find and remedy the source of the problem. Keep in mind that if the source of your recurrent plugged ducts or mastitis is something fixable (for example: oversupply, infrequent nursing, too tight bra, etc.), then solving the underlying problem is the most effective thing you can do."
- DO NOT STOP NURSING! Try and nurse even more than usual to keep the milk flowing through.
- Heat or Cold Packs - Apply heat/cold before and after nursing baby. If there is redness or swelling, it's inflammation and you need COLD. Once the swelling goes down, you can use HEAT.
- Take a hot shower, use washcloths, a towel-covered ice pack, or rice packs as compresses, or use these really cool things called Booby Tubes from Earth Mama Angel Baby. They can be used hot or cold.
- Massage, while nursing or pumping.
- Find the lump with your fingertips, and while nursing baby on the side with the plugged duct, use your finger tips to massage gently but firmly from the plugged area toward the nipple. Massage in the shower for a double whammy!
- Soak in a sink full of warm water.
- Fill the sink, lean over and immerse one or breasts. Do this for 5 minutes 5-7 times per day.
- Rest! Nap while your baby naps, at least once a day.
- Sleep on your side or your back in a cotton nursing bra with no wires. Sleeping on your stomach can put pressure on your breasts and lead to clogged ducts.
- Wear loose clothing during the day with a well-fitting bra to prevent restricted blood flow.
- If you have a breastpump, you can pump for just long enough to relieve pressure or engorgement.
- If you're really uncomfortable, try nursing for a few sessions on your hands and knees with your baby underneath. It feels strange and awkward but it works to get the milk flowing.
Supplements & Foods:
- Vitamin C
- 1000mg 4-5 times per day
- Echinacea Tincture
- Take 3 drops in a glass of water every 2 hours. You can also take it in tea form in addition to the tincture. Continue taking for at least a week after symptoms have resolved.
- Raw Garlic
- Eat a whole clove 3-5 times per day
- Fever & Swelling: Belladonna 30C – 3 pellets 2-3 times per day.
- Hepar Sulphur and Phytolacca
- Dosage (allow pellets to dissolve in mouth): first, take Hepar Sulphur 30C – 3 pellets; 3 hours later, take Phytolacca 30C – 3 pellets; 3 hours later, take Hepar Sulphur 30C – 3 pellets; 3 hours later, take Phytolacca 30C – 3 pellets. (Per KellyMom)
- If neither remedies work in the first 24 hours, try another remedy from the list on the Little Mountain Homeopathy Blog.
- 10-15 drops twice a day (from Susun S. Weed)
- Apple Cider Vinegar + raw honey
- Mix 1 Tbsp. ACV with honey to taste in a small glass of water. Take 3 times per day.
- Eggs are the best source: One mom I heard of swears by 2-3 raw pastured egg yolks per day (add to a smoothie!). If you can't get a hold of some pastured eggs, buy organic and cook the yolk gently.
- If you can't eat eggs, try a non-GMO Lecithin supplement
- Cabbage leaves
- Place a cool leaf inside your bra, directly against your breast. Leave it for 15-30 minutes, then remove. Do this once or twice per day (careful, it can negatively affect your supply!)
- Thieves Oil
- 1-2 drops diluted in 1 tsp. coconut oil, rub on affected area - a good friend swore by this!
- Chiropractic Care - read about Frugal Granola's experience.
And if none of the above treatments work to completely resolve the problem, antibiotics might be necessary, although in my opinion (I'm not a Dr.!) and from many of the informed opinions of those I admire, that is the very last resort, because of the damage it can do to your gut and the developing gut of your newborn, and because of the increased risk of a fungal infection like thrush. If you do have to take antibiotics, make sure you supplement with a very high quality probiotic and eat lots of yogurt and naturally fermented foods.
Sources & Resources:
Plugged Ducts & Mastitis Treatment and Recurrent Mastitis and Plugged Ducts at KellyMom
Prevention and Treatment of Mastitis at Keeper of the Home
Natural Remedies for Problems in Breastfeeding, Part 2 by Susun S. Weed
Homeopathic Treatment of Mastitis at Little Mountain Homeopathy Blog
Natural Cures for Mastitis at Naturally Knocked Up
Mastitis and Blocked Ducts at Holistic Kid
What's your go-to remedy for mastitis or clogged ducts? Have you tried any of those listed above?
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This is the twenty-first post in the series 31 Days of Making More Milk. Check out yesterday's post about galactogogues (milk-making herbs) or start from the beginning here.
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I love sharing my experiences, but this site isn't meant to give medical advice, it's only for informational and educational purposes. Please discuss with your own qualified health care provider before adding in supplements or making any changes in your diet. Also, any links to sponsors or affiliates (including Amazon) may give me a percentage of the sale or a pay per click. Thank you so much for supporting this site!