Mastitis – Dealing with the Boob Flu

The boob flu.

Imagine feeling like you have the flu while also wondering if your boob might spontaneously combust and half of the at-home remedies involve painfully groping yourself.  Or, get mastitis and you won’t have to imagine any longer, you can live this dream turned nightmare.


What it is

Mastitis is an inflammation and/or infection of the milk ducts.




  • Swelling, pain and tenderness in one breast.
  • Red streaks radiating out from affected area or a wedge-shaped red area.
  • Flu-like aches and chills.
  • Fever above 101.
  • Generally feeling like death might be a slight improvement. Or as a friend put it, “time to amputate my boob with a dull knife. It’ll feel better than this.”


Mastitis vs plugged duct

Both can be caused by milk stasis – aka, when the milk does not completely empty out of a milk duct. Frequently, mastitis will include a plugged duct and a plugged duct not promptly treated can turn into mastitis.

Many of the symptoms are similar between the two. A plugged duct will have a low-grade fever, if any. There is less pain and no red streaks. You may feel uncomfortable but not like you want to remove your boob from your body.

Luckily, many of the treatments are the same.

What you can do at home

  • Rest – put your feet up and demand everyone wait on you. Or, at the very least, don’t decide to rearrange all your furniture or run a marathon.
  • Fluids – When aren’t fluids the answer?
  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Ibuprofen to reduce fever, pain, and inflammation.
  • Nurse, nurse, nurse – Do not stop nursing from the affected breast. The infection is no danger to the baby and you run the risk of developing an abscess if you do not keep nursing. This is also not a time to wean. In fact, you should nurse and/or pump from that side as often as possible, in a variety of positions. Football hold is one that tends to be effective.
  • Dangle feeding – Put your baby on the bed and lean over her while letting her nurse (or hand expressing). This is encouraging gravity to do some of the work for you.
  • Hand expression and massage – Massage from the sore area out towards the nipple. This is when you will believe the universe is playing a cruel joke. It’s ok to scream a little. While massaging, try to hand express to continue to work the plug and infection out. If your baby is refusing to nurse from that side (it can taste saltier than normal), you may need to pump, as well.
  • Alternate heat and cold – Use heat before you nurse, to help loosen the plugged duct. Use cold after, to reduce inflammation.
  • Hot showers and baths – This combines the moist heat from the water with massage and relaxation. My personal favorite is to run a hot bath and try to hand express under the water. It’s strangely satisfying to watch the milk rings as they dissipate. It also makes it easier to see when you are getting to the thicker milk of a clog — the milk will look more like little strings than wispy clouds. Bonus, the milk is good for your skin, or something.
  • Electric toothbrush or… other things that vibrate – Press something that vibrates (we won’t judge) against the sore area to help break up any clogs.
  • Wide tooth comb – Drag a comb (one without sharp teeth!) through a bar of soap and then gently rake it from the clog out towards the nipple.
  • Other natural remedies – Some mothers swear by castor oil or epsom salt compresses, garlic pills, and cabbage on the breast (beware that cabbage can reduce supply).

When to see a health care provider

  • You have a history of mastitis.
  • Your fever or pain are rising quickly or if they are not resolving after 24 hours.
  • You feel extremely sick.
  • You have any cracks or blisters on your nipples.

If you have any doubt or concerns, call your provider.


After effects

  • You may see a temporary drop in production on the affected side.
  • Your breast may ache or have some bruising.
  • If you are on antibiotics, make sure to take plenty of probiotics to help ward off thrush. Because that’s the last thing you need.



  • Taking lecithin capsules can help prevent recurrent plugged ducts.
  • Avoid restrictive or tight clothing and bras (make sure you’re wearing the correct size).
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
  • Make sure to empty the breast frequently (the first time I slept through the night I got mastitis). Avoid skipping nursing or pumping sessions. If your breasts feel full, encourage your baby to nurse.
  • Stay hydrated.



Mastitis is no fun. So if you’re feeling flu’ish and run down (well, extra flu’ish and more run down than a new mother normally does) along with breast pain, that may be where your troubles are coming from.

Let me know if you had any luck with tips, treatments or remedies if you’ve dealt with it.

Mastitis is no fun. Here are the symptoms, treatments, and remedies to get some relief. Whether you are breastfeeding or pumping, the signs (and preventing it) are the same.

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  • I got mastitis a lot while breastfeeding my son (like, at least 8 times.) *rolls eyes* Eventually I got into a good routine, which was: heated Booby Tubes [Earth Mother Angel Baby] and lecithin. Worked like a charm!

  • I had mastitis 6 times in the first 6 months I was breastfeeding! It sucks! After the first couple of times on antibiotics I tried a homeopathic remedy from a local homeopath that came highly recommended. I’d never used homeopathy and my rational mind still can’t get my head around how it actually works! But after that I didn’t have to take antibiotics again – just started taking the drops as soon as I noticed the signs (got good at that!) and it seemed to head it off at the pass. Plus of course rest and lots of feeding/pumping to keep the milk flowing.

  • Yes to Letichin!!!! I had mastitis three times in the first 2 months with baby one! I’m due with number two, and was wondering if I could start taking the Letichin pills prior to birth, or right at birth…. guess I should start looking into this more!

  • LOVE this! I’ve had mastitis 4 times in the 10 weeks my little boob sucker has been alive. it has been HELL. Glad someone finally said “other” vibrating devices work just like an electric toothbrush – that’s what helped me get better last time! Great post 🙂

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