Mastitis: Treatments, symptoms, and causes

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I had been fortunate enough to avoid getting so much as a plugged duct in my first 2-1/2 years of breastfeeding experience (I nursed my first child through my second pregnancy). Then a few weeks ago I got mastitis, which is really as awful as I had heard it was.

On Saturday I had the vague sensation that If felt like I was getting sick, and I had a little lump and fullness in one breast. Since we share a car, I get most everything out of the house done on the weekends anyway, so I did my costco/health food store/post office/library run as usual, came home, and told hubby that I was going to try and go to bed earlier tonight. By dinner time I moved that up to ‘I’m going to bed when the two-year-old does’, but before 7:00 came around, I had come to terms that I had mastitis. Bummer.

I already knew the warning signs:
Plugged duct- it feels like a little mass within the breast
Warmth and redness, usually in a wedge shape with the tip pointing toward the nipple
Pain and swelling
Flu-like symptoms; fever, chills, nausea

Fun stuff. I’m a total wimp when it comes to fever/chills, and since I do need to remain somewhat coherent in order to nurse my baby, I took a couple Tylenol to see if it would get rid of those symptoms. It didn’t, so I took some amoxacillin that I had left over from a sinus infection that turned out to be viral (antibiotics don’t work on viral infections, only bacterial).

Antibiotic treatment:
I’m normally someone who will wait out an infection before resorting to antibiotics, but I had a little brain fart and the medical scare tactics got to me, and I decided I’d use antibiotics since it had to do with milk for my baby, and I didn’t want to lose my ability to make milk. It responded well to the antibiotics, so I thought that I could go get a new prescription at the walk in clinic the next day. Nope, they wouldn’t give it to me even though the mastitis was responding to it, they gave me cephalexin, that didn’t work. It moved over to the left side on Tuesday night, when I took my remaining amoxacillin to get stuff back under control. Went back in on Wednesday, where they checked my white counts, they were fine, and then gave me dicloxacillin, which I was allergic to. By Thursday (when I discovered I was allergic to the dicloxacillin) I was also throughly irritated with the mainstream medicine and decided to be a little more persistent with using the natural remedies that I had heard of. The natural remedies ended up working really well, though I don’t know if my 1-day’s dose of 3 different antibiotics did jumpstart the process.

Natural remedies:
~Of course have the baby nurse, though mine is 8 months and crawling and not at all interested in nursing for any longer than absolutely necessary. And he bites if I try and ‘encourage’ it. So we just nursed the normal amount.
~Tea tree oil topically. This is what ‘cured’ it for me. When I stopped taking the antibiotics I started applying the tea tree oil at regular intervals, every few hours, and again if I woke up at night. ‘Topically’ is putting it right on the affected area. My tea tree oil had a dropper top, and I poured 15-20 drops right on the top every few hours. Be liberal. You’ll smell like tea tree oil (I don’t love how it smells) but it’s natural and inexpensive. Just about any health food store will have it, I think I bought mine from Mountain Rose Herbs a few years back for $4 or right around that amount.  Buy high quality tea tree oil here.
~ Topical iodine may help break up the fatty ‘clot’ that’s plugging the duct. I didn’t try this, didn’t have iodine.
~Have the baby nurse with his chin pointing toward the affected area. For me that meant using the football hold, which was amusing to do with a 21-pound 8 month old who had never nursed like this before. Lots of giggles on his end, glad to amuse someone ~grin~. For some, if the affected area is on the top of the breast, this could mean nursing laying down with baby’s feet way up over your head. If it gets the infection to drain, you do what you have to do. I had read that this doesn’t work for all women, since sometimes ducts wind around and come out different areas on the nipple. But since it’s easy and free, it’s worth a shot. It did work well for me, I could feel the infection drain a bit after each nursing session like this. Kellymom has lots and lots of information about how you really do need to keep nursing during mastitis, it will not harm your child at all.
~Boosting supply: My milk supply is finicky; stress or sickness will reduce the amount of milk I make quickly. I can tell because the baby starts thrashing at the breast, or biting, when they normally would nurse contentedly. If I’m going to have issues, they normally happen in the evening. At one point, I was even pumping in the morning so that I could feed my first expressed milk in the evening when I didn’t have as much milk. I know this, and I started taking Traditional Medicinals Mother’s Milk Tea right away. My body responds really well to this, I knew it would get the milk flowing and keep my supply up for my little boy. I made it into sun tea since it was July and pretty warm to be boiling water. The fenugreek in the nursing mother’s tea is what boosts supply (but it doesn’t work in all women). The only side effect that I’ve found is that it gives me a lot more foremilk, and thus turns the baby’s poops green. Green poops in a breastfed baby usually mean that they’re not getting enough fatty hind milk (the thicker milk that comes out at the end, when the breast is nearly drained) and can give them a little upset stomach and make them more fussy than usual. For this reason, I only take the mother’s milk tea when I think it’s necessary.
~ Lots of water is important for milk production, and you want to keep your milk production up to help clear out the infection, and of course for the baby.
~ Vitamin C. I take vitamin C, usually EmergenC, though I haven’t looked at the ingredients closely, when I’m sick. Our immune function depends on vitamin C to work, though I don’t know of an excess amount of vitamin C actually helping immune function so excess isn’t necessary. You just don’t want a deficiency to limit your immune system.
~Going braless is recommended to keep any pressure off the ducts. I wore a vest over my shirt. In July. You do what you have to do ;)
~ Hot showers can help dislodge the plugged duct and draw out infection. I tried this and it didn’t seem to work. My boy isn’t too thrilled about me taking long showers, though, so I didn’t put a whole lot of effort into it. I also read that soaping up a wide-toothed comb and ‘combing’ the infection out by putting pressure downward towards the nipple can help.
~ Sleep/rest. I had my husband take a day off work to help with the toddler. I’ve been bad about getting enough sleep lately, either because I’m so excited to be able to get things done when both kids are asleep at the same time that I can’t sleep, or because they’re not asleep at the same time, so I can’t sleep. I’m working on this, since it’s important that I not be sickly and run down so I can be a better mama and wife.

I highly suspect that the reason I got mastitis was because I wasn’t getting enough sleep and was doing quite a bit of physical activity. We recently got a double jogging stroller, and I’ve been enjoying this nice summer weather by taking two walks a day, a couple miles each. I don’t think that the walks themselves did it, but coupled with my lack of sleep (I’ve been getting 7 hours a night, where I normally require about 8-9) I think it just ran me down too much. I see some women who are just chronically tired; baggy eyes, run down, low energy. I’ve never been like that, I tend toward going along just fine and then, wham, getting unable-to-get-out-of-bed sick. In school I used to get sick like this after finals almost every time.

So, as much as I’d like to be like some people who function well on 5-6 hours of sleep, I just need to admit that I personally need more sleep than that. There’s no glory or pride in going going going until I crash.

I’m sure there are other mothers out there who have had mastitis battles. What worked for you? What didn’t?

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Comments

  1. Cabbage leaves!!

    I also took a bunch of echinacea along with Vit C, and I ate 3 cloves of raw garlic (cut up into pill sizes and swallowed whole with oj). I swear I was better the next day!!

  2. I know that a combination of sweet fennel and peppermint helps. Fennel helps the milk come down and the peppermint helps the circulation. Dilute in olive oil and massage affected area. You can also make a balm with olive oil and beeswax with fennel and peppermint. Nice scent. I would watch the amount of peppermint with breastfeeding – little eyes would burn.

  3. I second the raw garlic cloves. I think that helped enormously. I swallowed them down with some raw milk and was better soon! Also, I tried a homeopathic remedy from WF. I can’t seem to remember what it was now though…

  4. Patricia Prenosil says:

    The first time I got mastitis I took antibiotice, forgot to finish the dose and had to take a second round. My daughter who was almost 2 at the time ended up with chrinic yeast infections and is still very prone to them to this day despite gut healing. The next time I swallowed several cloves of garlic three times a day for three days and iit was gone (I smelled terribly garlicky and dh said he craved italian food every time I walked by, but hey, no antibiotice). This last time I got it 2 weeks after birth. The midwife told me to take homeopathic pulsatilla, vitamin C, and vitamin D. That worked within a couple of days (by the time I finished the pulsatilla in one bottle).

  5. Thank you so much for this post! Applying the tea tree oil topically over the mastitis area made a huge difference for me. Within a couple of hours I could feel the difference. each time I applied more it got a little bit better!

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