Yes, that's right - the dreaded “m” word descended upon my unsuspecting & totally unprepared body this week in full force and I felt like a train had run over me then reversed and gone again for another round. Awful. Horrid. Truly horrendous. I wouldn't wish it on my most horrid ex boyfriend... or maybe I would, just a little bit... *evil grin*
What exactly is mastitis?
The Australian Breastfeeding Association states:
"Mastitis is usually the result of a blocked milk duct that hasn't cleared. Some of the milk banked up behind the blocked duct can be forced into nearby breast tissue, causing the tissue to become inflamed. The inflammation is called mastitis (also sometimes called 'milk fever'). Infection may or may not be present".
If you’ve ever expressed breast milk then left it to sit for a time, you’ll notice that just like cow’s milk a slight seperation of the cream occurs. This cream can harden within the breast itself, blocking a duct. This blockage can lead to inflammation and infection, which is usually the start of mastitis.
In addition, mastitis can be caused by bacteria travelling up into the milk ducts through the sinuses (contained within the nipple area) from cracks in the nipple.
Avoid Avoid Avoid
Want to avoid getting mastitis? Here’s how... make sure you start doing this from the moment you remember after bubs is born because it sneeks up on you & trust me, you only want to have it once (if at all). Some women I spoke to have had it up to 6 - 7 times in as many months! EEK! Stick to this never fail plan & you should be able to keep it at bay...
- Clean Nipples
After breastfeeding or expressing, always always ALWAYS wipe your breasts & nipples with an all natural baby wipe or tissue / make up pad with Witchazel. Alternatively, you may prefer to have a shower.
After feeding and cleaning, use a barrier cream on your nipples (Pawpaw salve is a great natural way to help your nipples heal from cracking & prevents bacteria getting into the nipple & traveling up the milk ducts).
- Breast Pad Hygiene
Change your breast pads DAILY.
Think about it - breastpads absorbing leaks & spills of milk that is alive with micro-organisms & healthy bits & peices but are sitting right up against your cracked open nipples. Mix the milk bacterium with your sweat and any bacteria on your skin and you've got a nasty concoction brewing in those pads.
If you go for reusable breast pads these you can just wash them in the shower & hang them out, swapping them around each day.
- Boob Drain
Drain your breast milk as often as possible - try not to go longer than 4 - 6 hours without either feeding or expressing. This will help to avoid any blockages occurring.
- Cop a Feel
Pay attention to how your boobs feel. Are there ANY sore areas? If so, get in the shower, as hot as you can stand & put the shower head down as close to your breast as possible (right on the sore spot if you can).
Pound the area with hot hot water whilst massaging (VERY firmly) the sore part down towards the nipple. Do this for a few minutes every day until the soreness disappears.
If you’re suffering from breast engorgement alot (i.e. your boobs swell up to almost bursting & feel rock hard & sore as hell) then you may need to express more frequently or use some cabbage leaves to help.
Put a raw cabbage leaf inside your bra & change it several times during the day. Especially helpful before the infection has set in. Overuse can decrease milk so do this only when necessary during periods of engorgement.
- Not On Your Side
Engorgement whilst sleeping on your side can pinch milk ducts which can eventually lead to blockages. Either sleep on your back when you’re suffering from engorgement or immediately jump in a hot hot shower & hand express some milk out straight away. I keep the breast pump by my bed of a night so I can just express a bit if I need to.
- REST REST REST.
Mastitis often occurs from doing too much & being over tired. Regardless of how good you may be feeling after childbirth, too many visitors and to many chores will eventually catch up with you.
Limit visitors to one a week if possible & hire a cleaner for a few months. Shift the budget around to scrape up the extra $40 - $50 for a once a week / fortnight spruce up.
Its worth it because you’ll spend that much on drugs for mastitis if you really get sick (it can put you in hospital within 48 hours if you’re not careful... I’m serious!)
If you have a temperature, you feel like the day before the flu sets in (body aches, a fever, chills or shivers, lethargy, headaches in addition to sore spots on your boobs and perhaps a drop in milk supply) then its quite possible you have a full blown case of mastitis about to hit like a freight train.
At this stage, everyone recommends you go straight to a Doctor for an anti-biotic (penicillin).
I ended up having to to do this because it had been 36 hours & I was almost at the point of going to hospital to be drip fed drugs. If this isn’t your cup of tea, then avoidance is best. Prevention is better than cure, especially where mastitis is concerned.
If you must get onto anti-biotics, because the duct inflammation has become infected, then it is suggested to take a strong pro-biotic 2 hours after each dose of anti-biotics or each night.
You may also wish to consider the "Pump & Dump" of your breast milk if you don’t want your bubba ingesting anti-biotics that are meant for you, unnecessarily.
Tips to Treat Mastisis
- I know it will hurt like someone is stabbing your breast with a red hot poker but you MUST continue feeding or expressing milk from that breast. I know, I know, I know... I sympathise (believe me - I was crying in pain!) but you MUST MUST MUST drain the infected breast as often as possible.
Aim for every 2 - 3 hours, just a little more than your feeding times. It will help the infection to clear faster & stop engorgement (which you just don’t need on top of mastitis).
If you can’t handle “feeding” then use frozen / expressed milk from before & just express as often as you can to keep the flow moving.
- Grate a raw potato (skin off or on, doesn’t matter though off is cleaner for you) & apply directly to the tender area of the breast, cover with a clean cloth (like muslin). This is called a "poultice".
Replace this poultice when it has dried out. Continue until infection clears. Potatoes are wonderful for reducing inflammation and for drawing out infection. Alternatively, make up a paste of Slippery Elm powder and paint onto your breast and cover up. Leave on there, feed as normal and let it help draw out the infection from your blocked duct.
- Place soaked chamomile tea bags over the sore and tender areas daily. Replace when dried out. You can alternate potato & chamomile tea bags if you like... and works well on sore, red eyes and inflamed nipples and is totally baby safe.
Herbal Remedies for Mastitis
To purchase any of these herbs listed below, try your local Health Food store or go to Herb Cottage, Australia
- Echinacea tincture - Take one tablespoon of tincture (alcohol based extraction) 6 times daily until the fever passes then same again 3 times daily for 7 days. A Natropath can make this up for you or you can buy it ready made from a Health Food store. It a natural immunity booster and will aid your body in fighting off the infection.
** Echinacea MAY cause upset tummies etc for new babies so be wary if you have a baby under 3 months of age. **
- Elderflower Infusion - One ounce (30grams) of dried Elderflower soaked for 2 hours in 1 litre of boiling water. Drink 2 - 3 cups daily until fever passes and the infection has gone.
- Chamomile Poultices - A poultice is basically soaked herbs wrapped in thin cloth (muslin for example) placed directly over the sore area. Get your chamomile tea out ASAP when your boobs start to hurt. Soak 30grams of chamomile (or use comfrey leaf or calendula - all of these are really effective) in boiling water until its warm. Wrap in a small muslin cloth (cut up one of your muslin wraps to use for poultices) & place over the sore area. Change every 4 - 6 hours, daily for a week.
- Marshmallow Root Soak - Soak 60grams of dried Marshmallow root in 2litres of boiling water overnight. Then reheat in the morning to as hot as you can stand (about 40 - 45 degrees usually) and soak breasts in this marshmallow root bath until it cools. Do this once a day every day for a week.
- Raw garlic - Garlic is a potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial. It will help your body take on the infection with out destroying all your healthy gut flora (which is 70% responsible for the immune system).
Take from 2 - 5 cloves of raw garlic a day. Chop into peices and swallow just like tablets.
- Vitamin C - I was taking over 3000mg - 5000mg per day which is considered a “megadose”. This worked wonders & helped me feel better very quickly. I always use powdered Vitamin C so I can get the dose levels I need to recover. For more on Megadose Vitamin C therapy check out Vitamin C Foundation
- Garlic & Echinacea Drink - 400mls organic carrot juice, 3 cloves garlic and 1 tablespoon of Echinacea tincture. Drink this mixture every 2 hours for 2 - 3 days or until the fever clears & your breast is no longer sore.
Yes, its truly awful getting mastitis however you don't always need to resort to strong prescription anti-biotics. In some cases, you may need to however if you catch it early enough, these herbal remedies, taken every 2 hours will help your body to beat it - naturally.
Love and garlic breath,
The Eco Mum xo