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.
- 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.