Mastitis and Painful Breastfeeding

Traditionally, western medicine generally treats mastitis with antibiotics and painkillers. If an infection is severe, a doctor may also drain the abscessed breast. While western drugs are often effective, they can be passed on to the baby through breast milk. Acupuncture and herbal medicine offers mothers a more natural treatment option.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is an effective, natural method for both prevention and treatment of mastitis infections. For immediate relief, acupuncture stimulates endorphins that help ease the pain of infection. Acupuncture needling also lessens the inflammation and irritation in the affected breast, and clears the blockage at the root of the infection. A mastitis treatment can also include herbal medicine. Herbal remedies help the mother manage pain, reduce inflammation, and stimulate immune function. Higher immune function fights current infections, and helps prevent future ones. Specific herbs used for nursing mothers have no side effects, and breast milk will not be affected.

Mastitis (sometimes known as “blocked ducts”) is a condition in which a lactating mother develops a breast infection. Mastitis occurs when bacteria enters milk ducts through abrasions or cracks in the nipple, then multiplies in the ducts causing inflammation and pain. Mastitis usually occurs within the first four weeks of birth, and can make nursing and daily activities very uncomfortable or painful. Traditional Chinese Medicine, both acupuncture and herbs, gently and effectively treats mastitis infections.

Mastitis has several symptoms. Mothers may experience redness, pain, heat, inflammation, and swelling of the breast or nearby in the armpit. Symptoms often come on suddenly, and increase in severity quickly. Other symptoms include nipple discharge and low-grade fever. If a mother has severe mastitis, she may even develop flu-like symptoms of achiness and high fever.

There are several reasons why a mother may develop mastitis. Mastitis can occur when a woman is having difficulty breast feeding. It is important that mothers receive support in learning proper latching-on and feeding techniques. If a mother is not nursing properly, she may not be fully draining her breast with each feeding; when this happens, it creates an environment where the milk duct may be prone to infection.

Mastitis can also occur when there is lowered immune function in either the mother or baby. A mother with poor immunity is more susceptible to any sort of infection. Babies with poor health are likely to harbor throat and mouth infections that can enter the mother’s breast through cuts or abrasions in the nipple and breast. Mastitis is also more likely to flare up in a mother who previously experienced blocked ducts, and never fully recovered from her original infection.

If you are suffering from mastitis, there are things you can do to avoid or combat these breast infections on your own. Continue to nurse from your breast even if you are experiencing mastitis symptoms. This will keep your breast from becoming overly-engorged which can result in worse infection. You can try using a moist, hot compress over the affected area before and during nursing, which will help loosen the blockage at the source. While nursing, try to position the baby so that the baby’s chin movements help to massage the affected area, and any additional self-massage during nursing is helpful. A woman can also try to temporarily remove refined sugar, simple carbohydrates and dairy from her diet. Also, avoid putting consistent pressure on your breasts in your daily life. Mastitis can flare up from the pressure of a poorly fitted bra or the strap of a handbag. This pressure can interfere with breast health during lactation. I also encourage new mothers to work with a lactation consultant or other support person who can help the mother develop the best, most effective nursing techniques.

If you have further questions about mastitis, or would like to arrange a treatment, please call or email me. Acupuncture and Herbal Treatments can support a mother in mastitis recovery, general lactation (including milk volume issues), and several other post-partum issues. I look forward to any opportunity to support new mothers in experiencing better health and wellbeing.