Are you postpartum or post-piercing and having breast redness or pain?
If so: you may be suffering from “mastitis”. Mastitis is a general term for breast infections. These can happen while breast feeding, but also can develop even in women who are not breast feeding. Some non-breast feeding related causes are: cracked skin of the nipples or when healing from nipple piercing. Skin breaks from dryness or trauma can allow bacteria to get into your milk ducts and wreak havoc.
Common signs & symptoms of mastitis (breast infection)
- Breast tenderness and warmth.
- Classic wedge-shaped area of redness pointing toward the nipple.
- Body aches and flu-like symptoms.
- Increased pain or burning during breast feeding.
- Fever often 101 F or greater.
Specific causes of mastitis
Milk back up in your breast’s milk ducts is one mechanical reason for mastitis. This might happen if your baby favors one breast over the other or has some trouble with attaching. It may also occur if your baby is eating irregularly. With nursing challenges, you’ll find consultation with a lactation specialist helpful.
Other causes of mastitis can be bacterial infections. It is important to be examined by your MD to be certain a mastitis is not bacterial in nature.
Usual bacterial culprits:
aureus (MRSA) (“mer-sa”).
Staphylococcus aureusis normally found on the skin and in nasal passages.
About 20% of the general population are carriers of Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA but have no symptoms. It can also be transmitted from your baby to you from the infant’s mucous membranes.
MRSA is typically found in institutions such as hospitals, gyms, schools, athletic facilities, military barracks etc. To get it, you usually have to come into direct contact with someone carrying MRSA. To survive, MRSA needs moist settings like your skin after a work-out or exercise. A nasal swab culture is the most common way of testing to see if you or someone you know is a MRSA carrier.
Things to do to help prevent staph infections
- Shower routinely & immediately after exercise.
Various types of Stapholcoccus can enter the body through hair follicles. MRSA also can live on the skin. However if it’s only a short contact, it can be washed away. So: the sooner you shower after exercise the safer you keep yourself.
Keep sportswear, sports bags & equipment clean too. Regularly wash gear like elbow pads& knee pads.
- Place silica gel packets in your gym and sports equipment bags. Silica packs enclosed in many types of shipping boxes are excellent to reuse by dropping them in the bottom of gym bag pockets. They will dry moisture and make it inhospitable for staph to grow. Do of course take care to keep gel packs away from small children.
Things you can do at the start of a suspected breast infection
Used at the earliest stages of discomfort, I have seen the options below be quite successful. However, I do want to stress that seeing your MD & taking antibiotics may be necessary if a mastitis is worsening. It can progress to what is called a breast abscess, which is far more serious condition.
If you are having rising fevers, increasing pain, thirst, or hard areas forming on your breast, it is best to seek medical attention.
Sometimes clients in my private acupuncture practice are very concerned that antibiotics will be disruptive to their baby’s bodies and to the necessary E-coli in their baby’s intestines. It is true: issues can occur after courses of antibiotics. However, the risk of a breast infection becoming widespread in your system is a substantial. Please keep in mind there is a time and place for medicines. The ultimate health of you and your baby is the prime factor so please discuss in detail with your doctor.
For an acute mastitis:
- Get acupuncture and use topical Chinese herbal compresses/washes. There are classical acupuncture protocols, used for thousands of years, which alleviate pain, improve circulation and help detoxify the breast. The treatments are quick, relaxing and relieve pain. (By the way: acu-points directly on the breast are NOT used.)
- Get breast massage from an experienced practitioner such as a doula, a lactation specialist or birth educator. Proper massage will encourage your blocked ducts to open and relieve pain. Essential oils mixtures of lavender, tea tree, German chamomile, Roman chamomile, & thyme can be used during breast massage too. Consult an essential oils specialist for recommended amounts and carrier oils.
- Sometimes women erroneously think they must stop breastfeeding if they develop mastitis. Usually this is not the case, but do consult with your MD if you have questions. In fact, continuing to breast feed and/or using a breast pump can help open congested ducts and ultimately ease the situation.
Topical remedies for acute mastitis
Apply cool cabbage leaves
to the breast. Leaves can be tucked into the cups of your brassiere.
Pain alleviating natural compresses for reddened breast areas
Moisten the affected area with water. Sprinkle a small amount of papain extract (meat tenderizer) on the affected area.
Saturate a cloth in chilled vinegar. Hold cloth against the breast directly over the area to which the papain was applied.
Do not use this remedy on broken skin.
Do notapply this remedy to the nipple or aerolar area.
Only apply papain/compress to the red area, not the entire breast.
Cleanse the breast before breastfeeding.
Note: this remedy works exceedingly well for bee stings too.
I hope these options will be useful for you in the event that you are developing mastitis (breast infection)-like symptoms. Always consult with your doctor as well and never allow for symptoms, pain, or fevers to worsen.
Thank you for reading!
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~Karen Reynolds, RN, MS, LAc
Statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration. All information on this site is provided as education and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. No information on this site is intended to replace or delay the use of any conventional medical treatment.
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