I have naturally healed mastitis four times, without the use of antibiotics.
What is mastitis? A clogged duct or blockage can become non-infective mastitis, or the blockage can become a bacterial infection. Mastitis often shows itself as blotchy redness and heat on the skin of the breast, and/or pain with nursing or pain in the nipple or areola and a hard part on the breast. Sometimes one or more ducts will produce pus, which is thicker than breast milk. Mastitis may present with a fever in the breast or a whole-body fever.
The first trick is to catch it quickly by knowing your breasts. Make a point of massaging your breasts once a day while nursing and look for any redness of the skin. Don’t ignore nipple or breast tenderness or pain.
Though antibiotics may be needed for particularly bad or long-lived infections or high fever, they can come with side effects like yeast overgrowth/thrush, which is just another nursing challenge to contend with. Often, by the time the antibiotics kick in, you could have already solved the problem naturally. I came by the following plan as a combination of intuition, trial and error, Internet research, and my naturopath’s advice.
1. Green Cabbage Leaves. Green cabbage leaves have remarkable anti-inflammatory properties. They are my first line of defense. Out of the fridge they are cooling and soothing. Cover your breast with the leaves inside of a loose-fitting bra. Try to go bra-less when you are not using cabbage for better circulation. Replace every few hours and sleep in your cabbage! Eat some raw, too, to reduce inflammation from the inside.
2. Echinacea Tincture. Echinacea is a natural antibiotic with great results in treating mastitis. Take as directed by the bottle or your holistic healthcare practitioner.
3. Cold and Hot. Alternate between ice packs (to reduce swelling) for 15 minutes and hot (but not burning) wet compresses, like hand towels wrapped around your entire breast, for another 15 minutes. Use breast massage with the heat. Hot showers also work nicely.
4. Nurse Frequently, in All Positions. Though it may be painful to nurse, this is the fastest ticket to healing. Deep breathing helps, as does distraction, such as singing to your child. Change it up. Nurse in strange positions like the “dangle” (crouching over your child while she lays on a bed) and vary mouth positioning by mixing cradle holds with football holds and straight-upright holds. This will ensure all of the ducts are emptied.
5. Hand Express; Don’t Rely on the Pump. Mastitis is often a bi-product of engorgement. If you need drainage more quickly than nursing provides, learn the art of hand-expression using nipple compressions, like your child’s palate and tongue do to your breast. A breast pump does not mimic compressions and may create more engorgement without actually emptying the ducts. Alternatively, you can pump to start and then hand-express with breast massage. If you nurse mainly on the infected side to empty it, pumping the other side makes sense if your baby is no longer hungry. This will prevent engorgement and infection in the unaffected side.
6. Drink More Water. Drink more water than usual to flush the body of toxins and cool your system.
7. Get Help. Clear your calendar for two days and focus on your breasts, your baby, and your health. Use all of your powers to get a lot of help around the house.
8. Epsom Salt Soak. Before breastfeeding, soak your breasts in very warm water mixed with Epsom salt. Dangle them into a basin or take a full body bath if your breasts are smaller. This is the least-known remedy for mastitis. I came upon it by accident because I soak all other infections in Epsom salts. The magnesium in the salts opens the ducts, draws out infection, and promotes healing. This is safe for mama and baby.
Caution: If you use these techniques constantly for 36 hours with no improvement, develop a fever that lasts longer than 12 hours or rises above 101 degrees F, or develop the infection in both breasts, see a doctor immediately. Nothing above is intended as medical advice. I myself have actually asked for the antibiotics and gotten them just in case (especially over a weekend) and then used this plan and not had to take them, ever!
To prevent future mastitis infections, massage breasts regularly while nursing and when your little one wakes at night, rouse her or him enough for a good, long feeding to empty the breasts.
I have also heard that people use herbal poultices, but I have no experience with this myself. Feel free to share your recipes in the comments.
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