(I am not a medical professional — just a mommy sharing the info and experiences I’ve had! Please don’t take anything I say as medical advice!)
Today I got a text from a friend saying “what are your remedies for mastitis?”
I ran through the normal list — lots of water, no caffeine, no sugar, cabbage leaves, hot compresses, extra sleep, and etc.
Then we dove into whether it was mastitis, or just a plugged duct, and how to know the difference.
Having the conversation made me feel the need to make sure I was giving her all the right answers, so I spent a couple hours reading and searching, and I figure now is as good a time as any to give you all the low down!
What is the difference between a blocked duct and mastitis?
A blocked duct is a sore spot on your breast that can turn into a hard lump and keep your breast from emptying when you feed your baby. If left, it can quickly become mastitis, which is a breast infection.
I always called plugged or blocked ducts “hot spots”. A touch tender area, or a spot that gets stabbing pains. I know the twinge that says I’ve been running to hard and drinking too little water, and if I don’t slow down I will be sick within 24 hours.
Mastitis is when a sore spot or blocked duct causes a breast infection. It usually includes a fever and flu-like symptoms along with the symptoms of a plugged duct.
How to treat plugged ducts and mastitis.
There’s a whole world of natural remedies for mastitis, and they are worth the effort! If you don’t get the infection under control then you will have to go on an antibiotic, and that can be hard on both you and your baby’s systems!
I remember the worst mastitis I ever got — fever, chills, deep purple area of the breast with red angry lines radiating — the antibiotics from that round were definitely necessary, but we paid for them. The twins were about 8 months old and every. single. time. I fed them they would projectile vomit everything back up. We had bath towels on the living room floor and we would just hold them over the towels until they had finished. We still remember that as our “slip and slide week”. It was rough.
Anyway, the first and most important remedy for a plugged duct is
Lay down. Take your baby to your bed and binge watch Friends. Or Gilmore Girls. Or Stranger Things. Whatever your jam is, turn it on. Try to sleep as much as you can. Take a gallon pitcher of water and a glass with you, because the next most important remedy is
So. Much. Water.
I shoot for a quart an hour if I can handle it. Just keep on chugging the water. A minimum of a gallon during the day and a half gallon through the night has served me well in warding off mastitis. But if you are in a lot of pain and have an engorged or especially sore breast, the next thing to do is take a
Get that hot water running over your breast and hand express if your baby isn’t keeping you out of the engorged range. Don’t leave your breast hard and engorged. The heat will help your milk let down and loosen any dried or coagulated fats that are blocking things.
And it feels really, really good.
And whatever you do
Don’t Stop Nursing Baby.
To keep flow going and prevent engorgement or worse irritation, make sure baby is eating at LEAST every 3 hours! It’s very important not to give up and try to wean at this stage. Your body needs you to keep on feeding that baby so that it has a regular system to stick to! Using a heat pack right before feeding baby can help your breast to empty more thoroughly.
And for the final basic:
Ditch the bra.
Having your breasts compressed and contained can cause irritation that can lead to a plugged duct! So take it off. Wear a loose cami that will hold your nursing pads in place. If it didn’t feel so rotten, you’d practically be on a Netflix vacation!
Other home remedies that can help relieve mastitis.
- Vitamin C – I was once told “eat it til you’ve gone liquid”. While I wouldn’t advise THAT, per say, I have found multiple resources saying that you should increase your vitamin C intake pretty dramatically.
- Leaves – get a crisp, cold cabbage leaf and cup it around your sore breast. Your skin will absorb all of the water and nutrients from the leaf, and once it is limp you can just toss it in the trash. The cool, fresh leaf feels nice, too.
- Massage The Hard Spot – Especially if in a hot shower, massaging that pesky hot spot can help with breaking the blockage loose.
- Cut The Caffeine and Sugar – This one is crucial for me. For some people it doesn’t seem to make a difference, but for me, this is the only way I can beat it!
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Believe it or not, it can get a lot worse.
If an infected breast goes untreated it can develop an abscess that will have to be surgically drained. So if you aren’t seeing improvements within a day of home remedies, it’s probably best to call in!
IF your fever spikes above low grade, or if you have red lines radiating from an inflamed area, don’t mess around! Get help!
Make sure to tell your doctor that you need antibiotics that are nursing-baby-friendly!
If you end up on antibiotics, make sure to find a good probiotic to take as well! Antibiotics have been linked to yeast and thrush and either is a brutal follow up to mastitis!
Resources for Learning More About Mastitis
My favorite resource for all things breast feeding related is, of course, the La Leche League. www.llli.org
Dr Jack Newman’s breastfeeding information site with helpful videos. www.nbci.ca