Written by Megan Massaro
This is the third post in my new holistic healing/natural health series, where we explore alternatives to mainstream healthcare and find new ways for you to care for yourself. If you would like to submit a post to this series, contact me (mamapoekie at yahoo dot com).
The name itself sounds pretty awful. If you grew up in even a slightly rural area, the word may ring a bell. Isn’t that an infection milking cows get!? Yup. And nursing mamas, too. I know—I had it twice myself.
A few days after my first sweet girl was born. I just assumed all new mothers felt like they had been run over by a truck. My whole body was hot with a fever, but my breasts were red, inflamed, and on fire! Think: flu + engorgement + childbirth recovery. Eek.
My midwife was clear: I needed antibiotics. Antibiotics?! I just endured a day of unmedicated childbirth because I wanted to keep my baby pure and medication-free. This seemed like the cruelest of ironies. My midwife called in the prescription but I never picked it up. I knew enough about natural healing to know antibiotics were not the only remedy, despite her advice. After some research, I felt armed to fight the infection, and now I’m excited to provide it for other moms who want a natural alternative for healing.
First, it’s important to determine the root. I know how the first case started. Anabella didn’t have a great latch due to a slightly inverted nipple, and wasn’t draining my right breast properly. Mastitis is usually brought on by a few things: an ill fitting bra, cracked or bleeding nipples, emotional stress or getting run down (source of my second case), or skipped feedings that lead to plugged ducts.
It’s important to note: left untreated, the infection can turn into an abscess that requires draining. However, if you’re attentive and proactive, the infection can heal without surgery and usually without antibiotics.
The best remedy is…prevention. Mastitis can visit even the most established of nursing mamas, so these tips may come in handy.
Nurse. Frequently. Then, nurse again. Don’t wait for your baby to tell you he’s hungry. Offer often, as nursing will get your milk flowing, and minimize the chance of plugged ducts.
Rest. Often. You may think you’re back to normal after a few days or weeks, but your body has been through a major undertaking. Now’s not the time to tackle that organizational project you’ve been meaning to do. Have a babymoon in bed with your little one. Drink lots of fluids, read or sleep while he naps, and...nurse.
Eat well. Don’t underestimate the healing powers of copious amounts of water and good nutrition. Sugar suppresses the immune system, so it’s wise to cut out even that small nightly bowl of ice cream. Bacteria feeds on sugar and you’ll be unknowingly sabotaging your efforts if you put sugar into your system. Fresh vegetables, fruits, wild fish, and humanely-raised meat top the charts for a healthy diet.
Alternate warm and cool compresses. The warm will increase circulation, moving the infection out, and cool will decrease pain. Bags of frozen peas work well as a cool compress.
Massage. You want to keep the milk flowing, so gently massaging your breast toward the nipple will loosen any clogged ducts. You can give the massage a boost by using calendula oil, which you can easily make yourself by simmering a handful of calendula flowers in a cup of olive oil for about 20 minutes (don't let the oil get too hot, it would fry the flowers). If you are done using this oil, it can be used as a gentle skin cleanser for your baby, especially if he suffers from newborn acne.
Change positions. Experiment with your holds. The area of the breast under the baby’s chin gets emptied the fastest, so try a different position in order to fully empty the entire breast.
Raw garlic. Garlic is known for it’s antibiotic properties, without the nasty side effects. Aim for at least 2-3 cloves per day. You can chop the clove into smaller pill sizes, and swallow the pieces with a little juice. Don’t cook your garlic though - allicin, the antimicrobial property in garlic, is destroyed with heat.
Fenugreek. Steep a quarter cup of fenugreek seeds in a cup of hot water. Once the seeds are cool enough, mash them. You can smear directly on your breasts, or use a muslin cloth or bag as a poultice. Some moms prefer to make a tea with one teaspoon of the herb for each cup of boiling water.
Vitamin C. This immune booster is safe while nursing, even in a megadose. Try to take 3000-5000 milligrams per day.
Ibuprofen. It’s safe while breastfeeding and will decrease inflammation.
Potatoes. Grate a raw potato and place in a muslin bag, or some cheesecloth, and apply directly to the breasts. This should bring immediate cooling to the area.
If you have a fever, you can take Echinacea or Tincture of Oregon grape root three to four times a day to bring relief.
Above all, keep nursing! Weaning at this point could lead to more plugged ducts and further infection, requiring surgical draining of any abscesses. Eww.
If your symptoms don’t clear in a few days, it’s wise to seek medical assistance. In addition to your baby’s doctor, homeopathy and naturopathy may be viable options.
While there’s no surefire way to prevent mastitis, if you’re getting recurrent infections, take some time to examine your pace of life. Often infections are our bodies’ not-so-convenient ways of tell us to slow down. Above all, breathe deeply and love fully. Your little ones will benefit from a calm, present mama!
Megan Massaro is a two-time mastitis survivor and author of the forthcoming book, The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year. Read more about the book on The Other Baby Book website.