Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that most commonly affects women who are breastfeeding. It often occurs within the first three months after delivery, but can happen any time during the breastfeeding period. Generally, lactation mastitis affects only one breast, not both.
It results from a blocked milk duct, causing milk to remain in the breast that may lead to infection. Another cause of breast infection is bacteria entering the breast through a break or crack on the nipple.
Some signs and symptoms of mastitis are breast pain, swelling, inflammation, redness, and tenderness or warmth to the touch. Other symptoms include fever and chills. The condition can leave a mother exhausted, making it difficult to take care of her newborn baby.
If you have mastitis, it’s important that you continue breastfeeding. It does not pose any risk to your baby. In fact, it offers the added benefit of helping clear the infection in your breast. If breastfeeding becomes too painful, try pumping or hand-expressing your milk to prevent the milk ducts from clogging.
At the same time, you can use some home remedies to treat the infection and reduce discomfort. If the problem persists for a few weeks and makes breastfeeding painful, consult your doctor.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for breast infection.
When suffering from mastitis, massage the affected breast. This will help unblock the plugged milk ducts and relieve swelling. Always massage from the outer breast toward the nipple in small circles, applying more pressure on the infected area.
- Prepare a massage oil by mixing together equal amounts of apricot and wheat germ oil. Use it to massage your breast using upward strokes. Do this a few times daily.
- Another option is to mix a few drops of camphor oil in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and use it to massage your breasts a few times day.
Note: Make sure to clean your nipples with warm water before breastfeeding your baby.
2. Hot and Cold Compresses
Both hot and cold compresses are useful in the treatment of mastitis. While a cold compress can help reduce swelling and relieve pain, a hot compress helps clear blockage, improve blood circulation and aid in milk flow.
- Prepare a hot compress by wrapping a hot water bottle in a thin towel.
- Prepare a cold compress by wrapping a few ice cubes in a thin towel.
- Now place the hot compress on the infected breast for 15 minutes.
- Next, apply the cold compress for 5 minutes.
- Repeat the cycle 2 or 3 times.
- Use this remedy as needed.
3. Cabbage Leaves
Cabbage leaves are a soothing remedy for inflamed, infected breasts. They contain sulfur compounds that helps reduce inflammation and swelling. They can also provide nursing mothers relief from engorgement and clogged ducts.
- Chill a few cabbage leaves in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Place a cold cabbage leaf on the infected breast.
- When the leaf reaches room temperature, replace it with a new cold one.
- Do this a few times daily until you get rid of the infection completely.
Another good remedy for mastitis is garlic, which has natural antibiotic properties. It helps get rid of the bacteria causing the infection. In addition, it boosts the immune system and promotes quick recovery.
- Eat 2 raw cloves of garlic on an empty stomach. You can also eat a few more throughout the day. If you do not like garlic, have it with orange juice or plain water. Repeat daily for a week.
- Another option is to take garlic supplements, but only after consulting your doctor.
The herb echinacea bolsters the immune system to help the body fight off infections. It contains flavonoids that offer antibiotic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Apply the tincture of echinacea root on the infected area 4 or 5 times every day. Clean the area thoroughly with warm water before feeding your baby.
- Alternatively, add 3 or 4 drops of the tincture to a glass of water. Drink it 3 or 4 times a day for not more than a week.
Note: Avoid long-term use of this herb.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
Another excellent home remedy for mastitis is apple cider vinegar. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties help reduce inflammation, fight infection and prevent it from spreading. It also offers an added energy boost.
- Prepare a solution with 1 part apple cider vinegar and 2 parts warm water. Apply this solution on the affected area using a cotton ball. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes, then rinse it off with warm water. Repeat 2 or 3 times daily until the infection clears.
- Mix 1 tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and a little honey in a cup of water. Drink it 3 times daily for 1 to 2 weeks.
7. Fenugreek Seeds
According to Ayurveda, fenugreek stimulates the milk-producing glands and, at the same time, helps treat breast infection. Plus, it has flavonoids that help reduce inflammation and infections.
- Soak 4 tablespoons of fenugreek seeds in water overnight. The next morning, grind the soaked seeds into a paste. Place the paste on a clean cloth and warm it slightly in the microwave. Now use it as a warm compress on the infected area. Repeat this remedy twice daily for 1 to 2 weeks.
- You can also drink a cup of fenugreek tea 2 or 3 times a day until you get positive results.
8. Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has natural healing powers and pain-relieving properties that can help reduce many of the discomforts of breast infection. It also helps repair damaged skin tissue and heal infected skin.
- Extract the gel from an aloe vera leaf.
- Apply this fresh gel on the affected area.
- Allow it to dry on its own.
- Rinse it off with lukewarm water and pat dry with a soft towel.
- Repeat several times a day for a few days.
Note: Wash the aloe vera off your breast before breastfeeding your baby.
Calendula can provide relief from pain and swelling, two of the most common symptoms of breast infection. In addition, its antibacterial properties help get rid of the bacteria causing the infection.
- Prepare a paste using equal amounts of calendula flowers and comfrey leaves. Slightly warm this paste before applying it to the inflamed breast. Leave it on for 15 minutes, then rinse it off with warm water. Follow this remedy 3 or 4 times daily.
- You can even apply a calendula ointment onto the affected breast a few times daily.
Note: Make sure to wash the breast with lukewarm water before feeding your baby.
10. Eat Foods with Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps fight breast infection and heal damaged skin tissue. Moreover, this vitamin boosts your immune system and helps speed up recovery.
- Eat vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, limes, lemons, kiwis, guavas, papaya, strawberries, kale, mustard greens, broccoli and parsley.
- You can also take vitamin C supplements after consulting a doctor.
- Wear comfortable, loose clothing to avoid friction against the nipples.
- To reduce the risk of mastitis,keep the nipple area clean and dry between feedings.
- During breastfeeding, make sure the baby properly latches onto the breast.
- Ensure complete drainage of the breasts by changing the baby’s position during each feeding.
- If required, use a breast pump to empty milk from your breasts.
- Nursing mothers should get proper rest and sleep to reduce the risk of infection.
- Avoid lying on your stomach as it can affect the milk flow in the breasts.
- Drink plenty of fluids to keep your body hydrated and keep the milk flow steady.
- Do not allow your baby to use your breast as a pacifier.
- Avoid stress as much as possible to prevent complications.
- If using nursing pads, replace them frequently to ensure they are dry and clean.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Janifer Tropez-Martin, MD (Obstetrics and Gynecology)
What is the best course of treatment for breast infection?
Early signs of breast infection (mastitis) include painful, red, and swollen breast. At this stage treatment focuses on alleviating the symptoms with nonsteroidal inflammatory medications (ibuprofen or acetaminophen), cold compresses, and complete emptying of the infected breast with continued breastfeeding or pumping. If the symptoms persist beyond 24 hours, accompanied by fever, then antibiotics therapy is necessary.
Is mastitis a symptom of breast cancer?
Mastitis can be a symptom of inflammatory breast cancer or other advanced forms of breast cancer due to superimposed infection.
Who is at a greater risk of developing mastitis?
Risk factors for developing a breast infection include the following:
- Women who have undergone breast conservation treatment for breast cancer,
- Previous breast infection,
- Women who are breastfeeding,
- Trauma to the breast,
- Development of certain skin conditions such as eczema or dermatitis.
Can mastitis affect the milk supply in breastfeeding mothers?
Mastitis is usually caused by poor drainage of the breast milk or engorgement. The static milk allows bacteria to grow which leads to the infectious mastitis. The most important thing is to continue to breastfeed which will help clear the infection.
Can a mastitis infection spread to the bloodstream?
Untreated or complicated mastitis can lead to a breast abscess which is a collection of pus and bacteria. An ultrasound can distinguish mastitis and an abscess. Treatment for the abscess is drainage, which is a minor procedure.
Can non-lactating women develop mastitis as well?
Mastitis is simply an inflammation of the breast tissue, a condition that may occur in women AND men. Sometimes mastitis is associated with an infection but not always. Individuals who smoke are at highest risk for developing mastitis.
Smoking causes damage to the milk ducts, resulting in inflammation. Treatment consist of antibiotics for 5-7 days and smoking cessation.
How long does it take for mastitis to resolve?
Typical mastitis treatment course is antibiotics for 7-14 days. Symptoms should improve in 5 days but completion of the antibiotics is important to prevent the recurrence or worsening of the infection.
Please provide some additional tips or inputs that can help our readers deal with a case of mastitis.
For breastfeeding moms, keeping the breast drained is the most important thing you can do to aid the process of healing.
Non-lactating women should be familiar with their breasts, and signs of inflammation can represent a variety of conditions, one of which is breast cancer.
If you experience any of the signs or symptoms of mastitis you should seek the attention of your doctor as soon as possible.
About Dr. Janifer Tropez-Martin, MD, MPH: Dr. Tropez-Martin is the Associate Chair of Academic Affairs and Research for Women’s and Children’s Services at Anne Arundel Medical Center. She completed her residency training at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center in the District of Columbia. At the completion of residency she started as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tulane University School of Medicine.
Dr. Tropez-Martin has extensive experience in Medicaid managed care through her role as a Medical Director of Centene Corporation. She joined Anne Arundel Medical Center in 2018 as the inaugural program director for the Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency Program.