Inflamed and painful breast tissue, clogged ducts, and sore nipples – mastitis is an infection many breastfeeding moms come to dread. Known as puerperal or lactation mastitis when it affects breastfeeding moms, it is pegged as one of the reasons women often give up breastfeeding altogether. This condition is common in the first 6 months of nursing and often occurs due to the build-up of milk in the breast, leading to infection by bacteria. But mastitis isn’t just confined to breastfeeding women. It can affect other women too and is known as periductal mastitis in this case. It usually occurs when the breast gets infected after some injury to the nipple – for example, when you have cracked nipples or get a nipple piercing.1
Mastitis can cause a swollen red area on the breast that’s painful and warm to the touch. You may also have a lump in your breast or nipple discharge. Fever, chills, and a body ache are also common. See a doctor if you have mastitis so that any infection can be treated as soon as possible. Be sure to complete your course of antibiotics.2
So what are your options if you are struggling with these symptoms? You may need antibiotics to sort out the infection associated with mastitis. Make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible since a delay in treatment can result in the formation of an abscess, a pocket of pus-filled tissue.3 In the meantime, the following natural remedies can also help speed up recovery and ease symptoms. If you are breastfeeding, do remember you need to wash off any herbal remedy that you apply before a feed so your baby doesn’t ingest it.
1. Continue To Breastfeed Or Express Milk If You Are A Nursing Mother
It is important to remove milk from your breast when you have mastitis. Continue breastfeeding while you have this condition. It won’t harm your baby as any bacteria in the milk will be killed by your baby’s digestive juices. Incidentally, long gaps between feeds or not emptying the breast completely can both be triggers for mastitis. Here are a couple of pointers to keep in mind about breastfeeding while you have mastitis.
- Apply a warm, damp washcloth to the affected breast for around 15 minutes before you feed your baby. This improves the flow of milk in the breast.
- Start feeding on the affected side since it’s important to empty out this breast completely. If this is too painful, start with the other breast and once the milk starts flowing, switch to the affected breast.
- If you find it too painful to breastfeed, express or pump milk.4
2. Rest Up And Have Plenty Of Fluids
Take plenty of rest and drink a lot of fluids as your body fights off any infection and recovers. Water, fresh, unsweetened juice, coconut water, thin porridge, or clear soups can all help you stay hydrated. This especially applies if you are a breastfeeding mom and have your hands full otherwise. It’s very easy to feel run down if you are grappling with mastitis and tending to an active baby at the same time. So force yourself to take that break and reach out for help from family or friends if you have to.
3. Apply A Warm Or Cold Compress
Applying a warm or cold compress can ease the pain and reduce swelling. To prepare a warm compress, soak a clean washcloth in warm water, wring out the excess moisture, and apply it. An ice pack will also help relieve pain. But take care not to apply ice directly to your skin as it can cause an ice burn. Use a washcloth instead or place the ice on your bra or clothing.
4. Try Therapeutic Breast Massage
Research indicates that therapeutic breast massage can help relieve pain if you have mastitis.5 Begin by massaging a spot behind the sore area by moving your hand and fingers in a circular motion. Then gently massage in a sweeping motion, moving from the breastbone toward your armpit. Also massage around and underneath your nipple. A healthcare professional will be able to guide you through the proper technique for therapeutic breast massage if you need help. Ayurvedic practitioners recommend using castor oil for your breast massage.6 7
5. Apply Cabbage Leaves
Women have been using cabbage leaves to relieve breast engorgement for ages. Though it is not clear why this remedy works, studies have shown that women who apply cabbage leaves report less engorgement than those receiving routine care. Wash green cabbage leaves thoroughly and remove or crush their veins. Wrap them around your breast with the nipple uncovered for a couple of hours or till the leaves wilt. Continue this till the swelling subsides. Some women also recommend using cold cabbage leaves for easing pain, so let the leaves chill in the refrigerator for a bit before you use them.8
6. Use Turmeric Paste
Turmeric paste is a traditional remedy for tackling mastitis. Studies show that curcumin, an important antioxidant present in this spice, has potent antibacterial properties.9 Curcumin also has an anti-inflammatory effect since it inhibits a number of molecules that play a role in inflammation.10 In one study, application of a curcumin cream significantly reduced markers of mastitis like pain, breast tension, and irritation within 72 hours. The treatment also had no side effects. Mix turmeric powder with a little water to make a thick paste and apply it to your breast. Rinse off after 15–20 minutes. You can also talk to your doctor about a turmeric ointment.11
7. Use Aloe Vera Gel
Another natural remedy that has potent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties is aloe vera. Crack open an aloe vera leaf and scoop out the gel inside. Apply it to your inflamed breast to experience its healing effects.12
8. Apply Neem Leaf Juice
Women with periductal mastitis can give this a go. Neem leaves have anti-inflammatory properties and act against certain bacteria that can cause mastitis. Experts recommend grinding the leaves with a little water and applying the juice to help treat this condition. You can use antibacterial neem ointments too.13 14 Since neem is a stronger remedy, pass up on this if you are breastfeeding.
9. Use A Marshmallow Root Bath
The roots of marshmallow or Althea officinalis have anti-inflammatory properties. Add 2 tablespoons of powdered marshmallow root to a quart of boiling water and allow the solution to steep and cool overnight. Add this solution to a basin of warm water, immerse your breast in it and massage gently. This will ease pain and inflammation.15
10. Apply A Calendula Ointment
Calendula has a long history of use as an anti-inflammatory agent. Studies indicate that calendula has antibacterial and healing properties too. Apply an ointment with this beneficial ingredient to help relieve mastitis.16 17
|↑1||Mastitis. National Health Service.|
|↑2, ↑3, ↑4||Mastitis While Breastfeeding. University Of Michigan.|
|↑5||Witt, Ann M., Maya Bolman, Sheila Kredit, and Anne Vanic. “Therapeutic breast massage in lactation for the management of engorgement, plugged ducts, and mastitis.” Journal of Human Lactation 32, no. 1 (2016): 123-131.|
|↑6||Mastitis. La Leche League GB.|
|↑7||Lad, Vasant. The complete book of Ayurvedic home remedies. Harmony, 1999.|
|↑8||Kataria, Kamal, Anurag Srivastava, and Anita Dhar. “Management of lactational mastitis and breast abscesses: review of current knowledge and practice.” Indian Journal of Surgery 75, no. 6 (2013): 430-435.|
|↑9||Teow, Sin-Yeang, Kitson Liew, Syed A. Ali, Alan Soo-Beng Khoo, and Suat-Cheng Peh. “Antibacterial action of curcumin against Staphylococcus aureus: a brief review.” Journal of tropical medicine 2016 (2016).|
|↑10||Chainani-Wu, Nita. “Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of tumeric (Curcuma longa).” The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine 9, no. 1 (2003): 161-168.|
|↑11||Sebastian, Pole. “Ayurvedic medicine: the principles of traditional practice.” London: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier (2006).|
|↑12||Athiban, Prakash P., Bikash Jyoti Borthakur, S. Ganesan, and B. Swathika. “Evaluation of antimicrobial efficacy of Aloe vera and its effectiveness in decontaminating gutta percha cones.” Journal of conservative dentistry: JCD 15, no. 3 (2012): 246.|
|↑13||Quelemes, Patrick V., Márcia LG Perfeito, Maria A. Guimarães, Raimunda C. dos Santos, David F. Lima, Carlos Nascimento, Marcos PN Silva et al. “Effect of neem (Azadirachta indica A. Juss) leaf extract on resistant Staphylococcus aureus biofilm formation and Schistosoma mansoni worms.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 175 (2015): 287-294.|
|↑14||Subapriya, R., and S. Nagini. “Medicinal properties of neem leaves: a review.” Current Medicinal Chemistry-Anti-Cancer Agents 5, no. 2 (2005): 149-156.|
|↑15, ↑17||Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for herbal healing. Penguin, 2002.|
|↑16||Parente, Leila Maria Leal, Lino Júnior, Ruy de Souza, Leonice Manrique Faustino Tresvenzol, Marina Clare Vinaud, José Realino de Paula, and Neusa Margarida Paulo. “Wound healing and anti-inflammatory effect in animal models of Calendula officinalis L. growing in Brazil.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine 2012 (2012).|