Breastfeeding is indeed a labour of love, with one in three of us lactating mums suffering from mastitis at some point as a consequence of our commitment. Mastitis is an infection of breast tissue caused by a blockage in one of the milk ducts. What can we do at home to avoid or treat it?
Mastitis may arise from poor feeding if your suckling baby is incorrectly latched. This creates uneven milk flow, and in turn can cause a blockage. Oversupply or gaps in your feeding schedule may also cause the problem, as milk collects and puts pressure on the ducts. Pressure on the breasts (for instance, from wearing a poorly-fitting bra) may also result in a mastitis infection, as might over-tiredness and low immunity.
The infection can cause you pain, swelling and redness of the affected area, severe flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever and shivers, and usually accelerates quickly. Very commonly, the prescribed remedy is a course of antibiotics to treat the infection; in the worst case scenario, you may end up in hospital.
Several natural remedies may be effective as alternatives to antibiotics. The key to the success of any mastitis treatment is to detect any problems as early as possible; so keep a close watch on your breasts.
A blocked milk duct causes a slight hardening of the breast tissue. This feels similar to the sensation of fullness when bubs is overdue a feed although tends to be localised, and remains even after she has had a vigorous suckle. Another reliable indicator of blocked ducts is visible redness of the area.
If you notice either of these signs, give the following remedies a try straight away. Any or all of them may work to clear away a milk duct blockage naturally and effectively.
feed, feed, feed
It may seem counter-intuitive to put baby to a sore, inflamed breast, but encouraging her to suckle frequently will help the milk to keep flowing. If possible, feed exclusively from the affected breast. If you choose or need to skip feeds, keep your milk flowing by expressing that milk as fully as possible each time.
Mastits is an infection like any other; your body becomes a battleground between the invading organism and your natural defence force. To give your immunity a fighting chance, rest as much as possible. Perhaps easier said than done with an infant to care for, but now is the time to enlist help. Take to your bed and give your body a chance to do its best for you.
massage and heat
Applying heat to the area can promote drainage of the affected duct, so get a wheat bag or hot water bottle onto your breast between feeds. Very gently massage the area, starting at the rim of the hard lump –
you could do this in a hot shower also. If possible, continue the gentle massage while baby is feeding.
Vitamin C supplements can be very helpful for mums suffering with recurrent blocked ducts or mastitis. The dosage needs to be higher than the standard daily recommendation to be effective, so you should check with a naturopath before taking.
Many mums have found that taking lecithin (a dietary supplement available from the pharmacy) can help to resolve recurrent blocked ducts. It is also essential to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, and to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
Humble garlic is a powerful healing agent, with antiviral, antifungal and antibiotic properties. Contrary to what you might expect, garlic’s distinctive odour doesn’t appear to bother most nursing babies and in fact studies have shown it may actually encourage them to nurse longer. To work effectively as a natural antibiotic you need to eat it raw. The upside is that, unlike medically-prescribed antibiotics, garlic won’t destroy the healthy bacteria in your body while it doing its healing work. Try to eat at least 3-4 cloves of garlic a day, crushing them and leaving them to oxidize for ten minutes before eating. Can’t stomach the thought of munching on fresh garlic? Disguise it in a sweet smoothie with honey, yoghurt and Nutella, or prepare a savoury vegetable juice with a couple of tomatoes, some lemon juice and a little sea salt.
Blocked milk ducts often occur because baby is incorrectly latched. Keep a close eye on her during feeding to ensure she doesn’t get into bad habits. If a blockage occurs, try changing feeding positions to encourage milk flow. If at all possible, direct baby’s chin towards the blocked area. Using the ‘football’ hold, lying sideways or even leaning forward over baby can all help stimulate flow and ease milk duct congestion. Take a look at your clothing and make sure you haven’t been wearing anything too constricting that might be causing blocked ducts.
Beware of secondary infections such as thrush (yeast/fungal infection). This painful condition can cause inflammation within the milk ducts which increases the risk of plugged ducts or mastitis. You should get it checked by your doctor to help break the cycle. Probiotics and raw garlic (with it’s strong antifungal and antibiotic properties) are also recommended.
If you experience no relief from the above suggestions, or if the symptoms worsen within 2-3 days, don’t wait to seek help. Some antibiotics are better than others in terms of their compatibility with breastfeeding, so ask your doctor for reassurance the appropriate brand is being prescribed for you.
Tiffany Brown is a freelance writer. Natural parenting and food are two of the topics regularly featured on her blog http://zigzagutopia.wordpress.com.