Sore, achy boobs, along with flu-like symptoms, may be one of the most unpleasant — and most unexpected — hurdles you face as a new breastfeeding mom. While the symptoms of a breast infection, aka mastitis, can’t be ignored, there are a few natural remedies that can make the healing process faster and easier.
According to the latest CDC Breastfeeding Report Card from 2014, breastfeeding rates are on the rise but still remain shaky. As of 2011, 79 percent of new moms started to breastfeed, with numbers quickly dropping by the time a baby turned 6 months old. These fledgling numbers may point to a lack of breastfeeding education and support, especially in the workplace, and being thrown a curveball, like sore nipples or mastitis, certainly doesn’t help.
“If you have ever had mastitis when breastfeeding, it is classically a memorable experience. Mastitis is a breast infection occurring as a result of a clogged milk duct unable to drain properly, causing harmful bacteria to build up,” Dr. Sherry Ross, OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, tells SheKnows. “Other ways to get mastitis is from bacteria on your skin and baby’s mouth entering the milk ducts and from stagnant milk that attracts dangerous bacteria. Mastitis can also occur in women who are not lactating or breastfeeding as a result of breast trauma, diabetes, steroid use or excessive smoking.”
As Dr. Ross points out, if you’ve ever had the “pleasure” of having mastitis, you’ll know it. Before you throw in the towel on breastfeeding, here’s what you can do to address the infection so it doesn’t get worse.
1. Visit your doctor right away
A new mother’s health can be fragile in the early days after having a baby, making it extra important to visit your doctor if you notice any symptoms of concern. Dr. Ross explains, “Symptoms of mastitis include a fever, muscle aches and fatigue, similar to having the flu. The breast affected will be extremely tender, painful and swollen. A warm, red rash, often in a wedge-shaped pattern, may also be seen on the affected breast. Breastfeeding mastitis only affects one breast.”
Mastitis is most common among new moms in the first six weeks after delivery, Dr. Candice Daneshvar, a board-certified OB-GYN in Beverly Hills, says. She continues, “It often occurs in the setting of various breastfeeding problems that typically cause prolonged engorgement or poor drainage, such as partial blockage of milk duct, pressure on the breast, oversupply of milk, infrequent feedings, nipple excoriation or cracking. The diagnosis of mastitis is based on clinical signs and symptoms, not lab tests.”
Like Doctors Ross and Daneshvar, Deedra Franke, the lactation consultant at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, also urges new moms to contact their health care provider to have a breast exam if any of the above symptoms appear. She adds, “Consider having a lactation consultant examine your breast and baby’s breastfeeding to get an understanding of the cause of infection.”
2. Use a warm compress
After a doctor has made a diagnosis, most likely prescribing an antibiotic to wipe out the infection, home care is the next step. Dr. Ross says, “Treatment involves using a warm compress to the affected breast, pumping regularly and taking an effective antibiotic. The good news is you can still breastfeed with mastitis as long as the antibiotic is safe with nursing.”
Dr. Daneshvar suggests alternating hot and cold — using cold compresses or ice packs to reduce local pain and swelling, along with heat packs or a hot shower to relieve an inflamed, clogged duct.
3. Massage the breast
Franke also endorses using warm compresses on an infected breast, and she says that massaging a breast while nursing or pumping can improve milk expression and provide added pain relief. For mastitis massage, Dr. Daneshvar recommends “massaging the affected breast from the outside circumference of the breast, inwards towards the nipple.”
Next up: Empty the breasts completely