Mastitis, or inflammation of the breasts, can lead to swollen, painful breasts and flu-like symptoms. Learn 9 mastitis relief tips to soothe your breasts.
Mastitis is inflammation of the breasts. It can lead to swollen, painful, and tender breasts that turn red or darker-looking. It could cause hardness and lumps in affected areas of the breast. Sometimes, it can also cause flu-like symptoms, including chills, a fever, exhaustion, and body aches. Most commonly, it emerges during the first few weeks of breastfeeding, although it could emerge at any point during breastfeeding.
Mastitis could be caused by any of the following:
- Clogged or blocked milk ducts
- An infection in the milk duct, caused by bacteria that entered the breast via a cracked nipple
- Baby having difficulty latching or otherwise removing milk from your breast
- Too infrequent nursing
- Engorgement (hard, overfilled breasts). This can result when baby has difficulty nursing and doesn’t drain your breasts effectively enough, but could also happen if you naturally have an overabundance of milk and it isn’t emptied quickly enough.
- Milk flow that’s restricted due to another reason, such as a tight bra
Learn more about mastitis from Mama Natural:
How to treat mastitis? Here are our top 9 mastitis relief tips for moms.
1.Nurse or pump more frequently to get the milk flowing
The bottom line is that to treat mastitis, you need to remove the blockage or otherwise get milk flowing properly again. So, try to breastfeed or pump breastmilk every two hours, at least.
Be sure baby has the proper latch when feeding (see the next tip below), and try different breastfeeding positions to see if one is more effective for you and baby.
Also, have baby nurse on the affected breast first. This way, you’ll take advantage of when your little one is hungriest and applies the strongest sucking.
After you nurse, pump the affected breast for 10-15 minutes to help clear things up even more, and help remove at least some of the milk that baby might have had trouble removing.
If the milk you pump looks different than normal when pumping, there’s usually no reason for alarm, as it’s probably safe for baby to drink. The only time you should be concerned is if your milk is green in color or foul-smelling, as that’s a sign of a possible infection. If this is the case, don’t give your baby the milk and see your doctor right away.
2. Make sure baby is latching correctly
Ensuring that baby has the proper latch will help keep any nipple damage from getting worse or returning. It will also reduce the chances that you’ll develop an infection (that could lead to future mastitis), because bacteria can easily enter through cracked nipples.
If baby isn’t latching onto your breast correctly, you’ll need to fix their latch as soon as you can. A proper, deep latch won’t damage your breasts. If you need help, visit a lactation consultant, or read this article on the deep latch written by the lactation consultants at The Pump Station & Nurtury.
3. Take a warm shower
A warm or hot shower can help soften the breasts and relieve mastitis. Plus, it’s soothing! So, stand in the shower and face the spray, and let the warmth and pressure help work out any blockage or flow restriction. Keep in mind that the pressure of stronger sprays works best, although any heat will help. While you shower, hand-express milk to help remove the obstruction.
4. Apply a warm compress
In the same way that a hot shower helps relieve mastitis, the heat of a warm compress can help soften the breasts and unclog any blockage.
- Wet a washcloth with very hot tap water, then wrap it around the breast.
- Alternatively, you could pour some water onto a clean paper diaper and heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds, then wrap the diaper around your breast. Just be careful not to burn yourself.
- There are warm compresses available that are specially designed for breasts, but these aren’t necessary to buy.
Apply a compress every few hours, for at least 15-20 minutes at a time (keeping a compress on the breast for as long as it stays warm is best). This technique is especially effective to help get breastmilk flowing just prior to a feed.
5. Massage the affected breast(s)
If you feel any hard spot on your breast, this is likely a plugged milk duct. Massaging this spot right away will help clear the blockage before things get worse. Start at the outside of the affected area and gently massage in a circle with your fingers, working your way towards the nipple. You can also massage by pressing with your thumb, working from the far end of the affected area towards the nipple. But any massaging that works around the affected area, in any direction, should help.
If your entire breast is engorged or otherwise affected by mastitis, and is in lots of pain, massaging will still help clear the clogging. Even though it may hurt and be painful to touch, massage your breast deeply --- using your knuckles may be especially effective. Aim to find where the blockage is, and give that area a particularly strong massage to remove that obstruction. In this case, pumping before or after the massaging may also be helpful.
Another option, no matter how obstructed your breasts are, is to use an electric massager on the affected area instead of using your hands. Just like you would if you massaged with your hands, focus on the blockage area and work towards the nipple.
Even better, massage the affected breast while you’re in the shower, to combine the two relief techniques and take advantage of the warmth and added pressure. Or, alternate the warm compress with massages.
6. Try the castor oil treatment
While it isn't supported by science, many moms have found that a castor oil compress has helped them relieve mastitis. Here's how to make one:
- Purchase cold-pressed castor oil.
- Wet and warm a washcloth.
- Fold the washcloth at least three times, to the size of the affected area.
- Apply castor oil to the washcloth.
- Place the washcloth on the affected area.
- Cover the washcloth with plastic wrap.
- Apply heat so the affected area feels warm, but not hot. You could use a heating pad set to low, a hot water bottle, or another warm cloth.
- Keep the compress in place for 20 minutes.
- Rinse your breast with water after the compress treatment, and before you nurse, so baby doesn't ingest castor oil during a feed.
- The Pump Station suggests repeating the process 2-3 times per day.
7. Support your immune system
Giving your immune system the needed support might not help relieve mastitis on its own (addressing damaged nipples or an improper latch is most important). But it can help you fight against an infection that could make mastitis worse, and help give your body what it needs to fight through the flu-like symptoms. Drink plenty of fluids, and choose foods and drinks that are high in Vitamin C (like oranges, dark greens and strawberries). You could also take a Vitamin C supplement or probiotics. And be sure to get plenty of rest!
8. Take acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) can help relieve the pain, fever and inflammation that mastitis causes. The Pump Station suggests alternating between the two medicines every three hours. For example, you might take acetaminophen at 7 AM, then ibuprofen at 10 AM, and so on.
If you haven't used one of these medications before, always check with your doctor before starting to take it.
9. When in doubt, call your doctor
If you haven't successfully cleared your breast on your own, and if you've had a fever of over 100 degrees, with flu-like symptoms, for over 24 hours, call your doctor immediately. You will need them to prescribe an antibiotic to treat the mastitis and infection. The antibiotic should provide relief within 24-48 hours; if not, call your doctor again.
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