Welcome to our blog series…. Common Concerns While Breastfeeding. These aren’t the complicated, ‘come-to-my-house-immediately’ phone calls I receive. Rather, these are the questions that come from clients and friends in the middle of the night, by text or by email, that don’t necessarily warrant a lactation consultation. They can often be easily resolved with a few simple tricks. So, I would like to share those tricks with you!
Why is my breast so swollen???
Does your breast suddenly feel like it is going to explode, like a balloon, off of your chest? Does it hurt to breastfeed, yet you know you have to remove your milk ASAP? Are you starting to feel exhausted and lethargic... not something that can just be blamed on being a new mom? Sounds like you may have mastitis!
What is mastitis?
Mastitis is inflammation of the breast, usually (although not always) from a bacterial infection. Mastitis happens when milk gets stuck in the milk ducts and that milk stasis causes engorgement and inflammation. Not all mastitis is an infection of the breast and can often be treated with natural remedies. Indications of an infection, and the need for antibiotics, are:
- Mastitis in both breasts
- Baby is less than 2 weeks old or you were just hospitalized
- Nipple has obvious infection
- Pus/blood in the milk
- Red streaking is present
- Temperature increases suddenly
- Symptoms are sudden and severe
How will I know if I have mastitis?
Mastitis often starts as a plugged duct. This pesky blockage starts to get harder and more painful over a few hours as the milk stays 'stuck' in the milk duct. As with a plugged duct, mastitis typically affects one breast, rather than both. Plugged ducts often resolve within a few hours to a few days, and while uncomfortable and tender, they are relieved with a few comfort measures over time.
Mastitis, on the other hand, has a few additional symptoms:
- Painful, hot area on the breast
- Breast may have a red streak over the hardened area
- Breast looks swollen and the affected area is tight and uncomfortable
- Mom feels like she has the flu - extreme exhaustion, achy, chills
How can I treat mastitis?
Once you start feeling like your plugged duct is exacerbating into mastitis, you want to start treating it as quickly as possible. Mastitis can often be treated with many natural remedies, rather than needing antibiotics. The reason we want to leave antibiotics as a last resort is that they kill off both the bad bacteria, as well as the good bacteria, leaving your body wide open for increasing your risk for thrush... Huge bummer!
Here is a list of my personal favorite natural remedies for treating mastitis:
- Bed rest! This is your body's way of telling you it's time to rest and take care of yourself. Think of yourself as having the flu. While mastitis is not contagious, you definitely need to remove your milk and feed your baby. The best way to do this is to spend the rest of your day in bed.
- Fluids and nourishment. Drink lots of fluids (like water, coconut water, and green smoothies) and eat warm nourishing meals (like soup.) The laundry can wait, I promise!
- Remove milk every 2-3 hours. If it hurts too much to breastfeed on the side with mastitis, you will need to pump instead.
- Castor oil compresses - Castor oil used topically helps to move things under the skin. Pour castor oil on a face cloth (it stains, so not on a nice one) and place the face cloth on your sore breast. Place a heating pad over the face cloth, as the heat will help the body absorb the castor oil and move the blockage. Check every 20 minutes and use as long as it takes to soften your breast.
- Dandelion tincture. Dandelion is a natural antibiotic and a great way to battle any infection. Two droppers full, 3-4 times a day, can often do the trick. The flavor is definitely intense, but well worth it!
- Vitamin C and Echinacea. Mastitis is your body's way of telling you it's time to slow down. Both vitamin C and Echinacea boost your body's immune system. A safe dose to take is 3000-5000mg/day (mega dose to be used acutely during mastitis) of Vitamin C and 900mg of Echinacea per day (acutely).
- Homeopathic belladonna. These tiny little pellets can make a world of difference to reduce your temperature while battling mastitis. Plus, you cannot overdose on homeopathy... if it isn't working, then you just stop taking it. 2-3 pellets, under the tongue, every 30 minutes for up to 6 hours.
How can I prevent mastitis?
Once you get mastitis, you definitely never want to get it again, so how can you prevent it from happening even in the first place?
Ways to prevent mastitis:
- Effective and frequent removal of milk. Engorgement or ineffective removal of milk can cause your milk to get backed up in the ductal system, causing inflammation and mastitis. Tongue-ties, latching problems, oversupply, limiting baby's time at breast, nipple shields, sleepy baby, and skipped feedings can all decrease the baby's effectiveness at breast, thereby allowing the breast to fill up too much.
- Make sure certain areas of your breast are not being constricted. Tight, under wire bras and restrictive clothing can put undo pressure on a particular area of your breast, which may cause a plugged duct.
- Seek help ASAP when you have cracked or bleeding nipples, as these wounds increase your risk for infection.
- Support your immune system. Having a new baby can be draining on your body and immune system, especially if you are recovering from an exhausting birth, cesarean, or just too many visitors in your space. In many cultures, new moms don't leave their homes for 6 weeks and their family and friends cook all of her meals and help her take care of her new baby. Unfortunately, in the United States, that is simply not the norm. When our immune system is run down, we are much more susceptible to illness and inflammation. Limit visitors in the first few weeks to only HELPFUL visitors, and ask them to bring food. Relax and rest during and in between breastfeeding sessions to let your body heal after the birth. Eat warm, nourishing foods to keep your blood flowing and your body healthy. Take an Omega 3 supplement (from a reputable company, like Nordic Naturals) to reduce inflammation.
Disclaimer: Most herbal treatments have not been thoroughly researched, particularly in regard to lactation. Herbs are drugs, and some caution is necessary. I am presenting this data as is, without any warranty of any kind, express or implied, and am not liable for its accuracy nor for any loss or damage caused by a user’s reliance on this information.