Mastitis is the worst.
When I was pregnant with my first baby I read all the books, I wrote my labor plan, I prepared for each stage, and I practiced pain management techniques. After delivery was over, I cuddled my new baby feeling proud of myself and glad that it was all over. Little did I know that the real labor was about to begin.
It was not the blissful, bonding, natural part of motherhood that I expected. Among other problems, I found myself coming down with repeated cases of mastitis. And it wasn’t just a clogged duct and a sore spot either. I would come down with a very high fever almost immediately and then I would find an angry red patch on one side of a breast. Each let down would hurt like the worst contraction I could remember as the milk tried to pass from the inflamed duct tissue.
The first time it happened I called my doctor, of course, and got started on antibiotics. But after a few days I actually wasn’t better and the infection had moved to the other side. That’s when my doctor said, “Let’s try something different. Antibiotics are good, but ginger is magic.”
If you feel a case of mastitis coming on, or even just redness and pain associated with a clogged duct, don’t wait to call your doctor. If you need antibiotics, take them as recommended and finish the dose. (Unless you have an allergic reaction, then cease immediately and switch to a different one.) You can also stand in a hot shower and massage the duct to remove the clog. Bend over so gravity can assist and let the water run as directly over the area as possible. Nurse on the affected side more often and use different positions to try and get the baby’s tongue sucking over the area that is clogged. Stay in bed as much as possible and drink tons of water and herbal teas.
In addition to all that, you can try my doctor’s miracle cure. I have had mastitis probably 50 times over the course of breastfeeding five babies and I only had to take antibiotics twice. Ginger cleared it up in every single other case.
What you need:
- Fresh ginger root
- Grater or zester
- Small cloth (I used cloth wipes but any rag will work)
- Heat pack (rice bag holds heat well if you have a microwave, hot water bottle would work as well)
All you have to do is grate the raw fresh ginger until you have an amount that can cover the infected area. Usually about an inch of ginger root will be enough. If you use a zester and the ginger is nice and fresh you will have a nice, juicy poultice. The cloth will absorb the juices and all of that ginger magic can get to your skin. If the ginger is older, like mine, it will be a bit drier, maybe stringy, and a regular grater might be easier to use. The scent of fresh ginger will still fill the room and it will work its wonders either way.
Next, simply place the cloth with the ginger over the infected area. You can tuck it into your nursing bra to hold it in place. There will be ginger bits and juices everywhere but I haven’t had it cause too much staining. Let’s be honest, nursing bras are already put through quite a beating. Prepare your heat pack and then tuck yourself into bed. I like to apply the ginger immediately after a feeding and leave it on for at least 15 minutes. If baby is sleeping and you have a chance to take a nap just leave it on. Even if your heat pack cools down, the warmth of your body (especially if you have a fever!) will keep the ginger warm and working.
When the baby is ready to nurse again, head to the sink and try to get as much of the ginger off as possible. Some will probably fall in your shirt, or in the bed, or on the floor, but it’s ok. It dries up and can be swept up later. Hopefully you have help that can do it for you! Take this opportunity to do a little hand expressing. Always rub from you body towards your nipple to encourage the clog to move itself along. Be gentle whenever you massage during an infection. Just a light touch will still help and you are already in enough pain. This is not the time for deep tissue massage!
I found that four applications was enough to take away just about every infection I had. If the baby slept through a nighttime feeding and I woke up with a clogged duct, by the time I was doing the last application of ginger in the evening I was already feeling much better. If I had over-extended myself with a big day of running errands, I might have had to get one on before bed and then do four more applications the next day.
You can try putting a layer of castor oil over the infected area before putting on the ginger if you want. I didn’t like the smell and oil can be messier than the water based ginger so I usually skipped it. Castor oil does have a good effect on moving blockages so if you have it around, give it a try.
Make sure to monitor your skin the first few times you try ginger because a few people are sensitive to it. If you feel a burning pain and develop a rash then don’t put it on again!
Even if you don’t use this home remedy instead of antibiotics, it can be a great tool to use in addition, or while you wait to hear back from your doctor. It’s easy to keep the supplies on hand, it’s cheap, and (as long as you aren’t sensitive to ginger) has zero side effects. Give it a try and let us know if it worked for you as well as it did for me!
BONUS: Don’t have a heat pack at home? Simply dump some rice into a sock and tie off the top. Done! I have a huge collection of fun knee high socks and when they get holes I like to cut off the foot and sew the top and bottom closed once the rice is inside. Obviously I haven’t gotten to sewing shut the one in the picture but knots will do just fine in the meantime. Go easy on yourself and find something that works!