The Fourth Trimester: When Mastitis Strikes

When mastitis strikes

I encountered my first bout of mastitis when my fourth baby was
5 weeks old. I breastfed all four of my children over a total of six years, and I can summarize the experience in exactly one word: TERRIBLE!

I was in bed in near tears because my body was so sore and achy. I would alternate between having the chills and a very high fever causing me to sweat buckets. I felt absolutely miserable, but was also desperate to clear up the infection without the use of antibiotics.

What is Mastitis?

Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue. It generally starts as a plugged milk duct that becomes infected. The effected breast will be red, swollen, painful, and inflamed.

How is Mastitis Treated?

The very best form of treatment is a preventative approach. For example, avoid restrictive bras or clothing, empty your breasts completely at each feeding and/or pumping session, and nurse and/or pump on a frequent basis to avoid engorgement. Additionally, keeping stress levels low (yes easier said than done) is important, as stress can be a trigger for mastitis.

Even when all preventative measures are employed, mastitis can creep up on you rather quickly. A clogged duct can turn into mastitis within hours. At the very first sign you might be experiencing a clogged duct, make sure you pay attention to your body. Apply lots of massage and heat to the area and nurse, nurse, nurse.

When mastitis strikes, a common course of treatment is a round of antibiotics. While this can be effective, some moms may opt to treat mastitis without the use of antibiotics. I preferred to avoid the use of antibiotics and employed the following holistic treatment and comfort measures:

  • Rest – this is essential! Try to let go of everything else and focus on resting your body. This is definitely a time to call upon your support system for help. When I had mastitis, my mother-in-law happened to be visiting and my husband was home from work. This allowed me the ability to stay in bed for almost two days straight while my body healed. As mothers it can be difficult for us to let go of all the responsibilities nagging at us, but to the greatest extent possible allow yourself to rest so your body can heal.
  • Massage – Massage effected area frequently. You can massage with coconut oil or even a bit of arnica gel/cream (just be sure to wipe any residual amount away before baby nurses). As much as possible keep breasts moving; even jiggle them to help your milk flow.
  • Nurse – Continue to nurse your baby frequently and in varied positions. You can even massage the affected area while baby is nursing to try to release the clogged duct. Nurse! Nurse! Nurse! Babies are extremely effective in getting milk to flow so keep your baby close and nurse often.
  • Heat – Applying heat to affected area can help reduce inflammation and soften the tissue. You can take hot showers or use hot compresses before each nursing session.
  • Fever reducer – You may want to take something to reduce fever. This chart shows risk factors of medications while breastfeeding. Both Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen are considered safe while breastfeeding. Homeopathic options such as belladonna may be something you consider exploring as well.
  • Boost Immune System – Vitamin C is a highly effective immune system booster. Some health care providers recommend a therapeutic dosage of Vitamin C (3000-5000 mg/day) to combat mastitis. Echinacea, green tea, zinc, vitamin B, garlic, and ginger also help boost immunity. I drank several cups of this garlic ginger broth when I had mastitis.
  • Stay well hydrated – Drink lots of water, especially if you are sweating due to fever. Keep a water bottle next to you as a reminder to keep consuming water.
  • Castor Oil Packs – Another alternative treatment option is a caster oil pack. This article explains how to do a castor oil pack as well as the benefits of doing them.

While mastitis is very challenging to cope with and definitely feels like a huge bump in the breastfeeding journey, know that it generally only lasts about 24 to 48 hours. Often it is our body’s way of telling us to S-L-O-W down. So listen to your body. Pay attention to this its message. And above all take the very best care of yourself as possible. After all you are nourishing another little person with your wonderful milk.

Please note: As with any health issue or concern it is always best to contact your health care provider regarding course of treatment.

Sarah Johnson is a crunchy mama to four boys. Her family feels blessed to currently live abroad in the Netherlands and enjoy exploring all it has to offer. 

Tags: coping, fourth trimester, homeopathy, Mastitis, pain relief

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