Mastitis is a painful infection of the breast that many nursing women have to face at some point in their nursing experience. Most often, mastitis is preceded by a plugged duct or a crack in or trauma to the nipple (or both!).
Mastitis symptoms most commonly include some or all of the following:
• Fever, chills and flu-like symptoms
• Breast pain, often emanating from a plugged duct
• Redness, often in a triangle “pointing” to the nipple from a plug
• Heat from the infected area
• Usually occurs only on one side
The best way to avoid mastitis is to keep the breast healthy, nurse frequently and on demand, stay aware of plugged ducts, and resolve any problems as quickly as possible. For details on recognizing or treating plugged ducts, please see my article, “Breast Pain – Plugged Ducts and Mastitis” (linked at the end of this article). For cracked or injured nipples, due to early breastfeeding, biting, pumping or other cause, I’ve had the best luck with topical Polysporin antibiotic ointment, with any excess wiped off gently before breastfeeding. (Avoid Neosporin or other “triple antibiotics.” They contain an ingredient, which can in rare cases, cause an allergic reaction in babies.)
Mastitis is a bacterial infection and may require antibiotics. I strongly recommend to nursing women to have a doctor that you know you can go to if you encounter this condition who you “pre-interview” to ensure they know how to treat it taking your nursing into account. Without one, you may find yourself heading down to the ER with a young baby – never a good situation. Cephalexin (Keflex) is a commonly prescribed antibiotic for mastitis, generally considered effective and safe for use while nursing (in sharing this information, I want to remind that I am NOT a doctor, and there may be allergies or specifics to your situation which would make this drug inappropriate or ineffective, so a doctor’s consultation is necessary even if you have access to this drug through some other means!). When taking antibiotics while nursing, you may want to consider taking a course of probiotics to reduce the risk of thrush.
In general, if mastitis symptoms have gone on for more than 24 hours, or are especially acute or debilitating, a doctor should be consulted (see World Health Organization protocols linked at the end of this article). Untreated mastitis can lead to an abscess, which is actually an important way your body compensates to contain an infection. However, it does require diagnosis and draining with a needle and should certainly be avoided no matter how unappetizing a doctor or ER visit may seem. There are some natural treatments or remedies you can try, which I will reference below; however, they should NOT be used in absence of appropriate care, especially if you are relatively inexperienced with mastitis.
While dealing with assessing your problem and obtaining treatment:
• Keep Nursing! Slowing down removal of milk from the breast will only compound your problem. If poor latch or infrequent feeding is what caused your plugged ducts, increase frequency and duration of nursing, with NO restrictions and pump the affected breast to empty. Try and obtain immediate help with nursing troubles.
• Continue with efforts to clear any remaining plugged duct or heal a breast injury.
• Go braless – it’s possible that something to do with the fit of your bra is causing a plug or other discomfort.
Personally, I have had problems with persistent plugged ducts, and have had mastitis five times. The first time, I had no idea what was happening to me. I assumed I was catching the flu, and the only give-away was the breast pain and redness. An internet search turned me on to what was going on. Without fail, it was a Friday evening, with a fever and no easy access to a doctor. In this case, antibiotics were required and I was able to find a doctor to help me over the weekend. My symptoms declined almost immediately after taking the first dose. My second experience when antibiotics were required was similar, although by that point, my doctor had given me a prescription to have on hand because I was prone to this problem.
Twice I was able to avoid antibiotic treatment by recognizing mastitis symptoms sooner and effectively removing the plug which seemed to “free” the infection. The final time, although my symptoms were acute – a very high fever that came on suddenly – I made the decision to treat naturally, with raw garlic (orally) and Vitamin C. It did work for me, and with rapid results. However, I had a great deal of experience with mastitis, and I did have a course of antibiotics in the house that had been prescribed in case natural remedies were not working. I really can not recommend this course of action without medical supervision, by an doctor, certified lactation consultant or other appropriate health care provider; however, if you are unable to contact a doctor or are otherwise in the course of obtaining diagnosis or treatment, natural treatments may provide partial or complete relief. I am including a link below to an impressive list of natural options.
I have been able to reduce my incidences of plugged ducts and the attendant mastitis by using a preventative dose of Soy Lecithin. I include more information this in my “Breast Pain – Plugged Ducts and Mastitis” article as well. Find this information as a “Related Link” at the bottom of this article.
Referenced links and other resources for mastitis:
Natural Mastitis Treatments from Kellymom.com
"Mastitis. Causes and Management" from the World Health Organization,
Use of Garlic as a Natural Remedy from WebMD
Mastitis Treatment Protocols from The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine
Disclaimer: All material on the BellaOnline.com Breastfeeding website is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Although every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information as of the date of publication, the author is neither a medical doctor, health practitioner, nor a Certified Lactation Consultant. If you are concerned about your health, or that of your child, consult with your health care provider regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation. Information obtained from the Internet can never take the place of a personal consultation with a licensed health care provider, and neither the author nor BellaOnline.com assume any legal responsibility to update the information contained on this site or for any inaccurate or incorrect information contained on this site, and do not accept any responsibility for any decisions you may make as a result of the information contained on this site or in any referenced or linked materials written by others.