How to Treat Breast Engorgement and Prevent Mastitis Without Hot/ColdPacks

Disclaimer -  This post is not intended to replace professional medical advice.  I share what I have found through research and experience.

After getting aggressive mastitis with baby number one, and going through over a year of nightmarish recovery from the over-prescription and use of antibiotics for that mastitis, I committed not to relive that experience when I became pregnant with baby number two. 

To read about my experience with over-use of antibiotics go here.

After giving birth to baby number two, signs of mastitis began appearing my last day in the hospital. I heard about the how cabbage leaves can help such issues, so at 12:00 a.m., hubby went to get some cabbage. I tried the recommended usage of the cabbage with no improvement. However, I am glad it has worked for others.

I came home from the hospital with swollen, engorged, hot-to-the-touch breasts, with red streaks, and flu-like achiness. I tried the warm compress before breastfeeding and cold compresses after breastfeeding without improvement. If anything, it seemed like the compresses further aggravated the engorgement and plugged-duct problem. I was determined to find a way to treat this naturally with conventional intervention.  Women in the past had to have ways they successfully overcame such situations naturally.

The heat compresses let down more milk while the cold compresses froze the milk in place. My milk-producing system did not like the bipolar-like compresses. I'm sure this method has worked for others, but for me it wasn't working.
I figured if the forming mastitis was bacterial, I would use herbal teas with natural antibiotics (e.g. organic sulfur) like Peppermint, Mullein, Kelp, Sarsaparilla, Garlic, etc, and soothing properties for the pain (e.g. Chammomile, etc), echinacea, drinking lots of clean water, vitamin C, high potency probiotics, and eating lots of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and avoiding processed/refined food anything.

In search of answers, I read how lecithin can help relieve plugged milk ducts. Lecithin is an emulsifier, which allows fats to mix easily with other liquids. I decided to experiment on that recommendation. 

In summary, this is what I did to prevent another mastitis nightmare. 

1. I focused on drinking lots of "clean" fluids (e.g. Purified water and herbal teas) | Most illnesses or disease conditions can be tied back to insufficient proper hydration. 

Sodas, fruit juices w/ added sugar, and even sports drinks like Gatorade, I do not count in the "clean" liquids, personally. These drinks contain non-nutrient components (e.g. sugars, coloring, artificial nonsense, etc) that can hinder the healing process instead of enhance it.

2. I focused on consuming foods and herbs that contain lecithin, or the lecithin building blocks, choline and inositol.

What is choline? Choline is part of the vitamin B complex family. It is abundant in the brain. It works with inositol to dissolve and utilize fats and cholesterol. (Information taken from "The How To Herbal Book" by Velma J Keith and Monteen Gordon)

What is inositol? Also part of the B complex family. Water soluble (hence, the importance of hydrating yourself properly so inositol can be utilized). High concentrations of inositol are found in the heart muscle and the brain. In a body's normal state, inositol is the most abundant nutrient found in the body next to Vitamin B3 (Niacin). It is considered a brain nourisher. 

Note: Bolded items below are my personal favorites. 

Choline Foods &Natural Sources | wheat germ, egg yolks, fish, brewer’s yeast, lecithin, soybeans, green leafy vegetables, peanuts, etc.

Choline Herbs | Alfalfa**, Cascara Sagrada, Dandelion, Fenugreek, GingerKelpLicorice, Marshmallow, Mullein, Papaya, Red Clover

Inositol Foods & Natural Sources | Lecithin, brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, blackstrap molasses, citrus fruitscereals, dried beans, cantalouperaisinsbrown rice, peanuts, nutscabbageoatmeal, whole wheat bread, milk*

Inositol Herbs | Alfalfa**, Cascara Sagrada, Dandelion, Fenugreek, Ginger, Kelp, Licorice, Marshmallow, Mullein, Papaya, Red Clover

*I am lactose intolerant, but after eating yogurt (which is usually okay for us lacto-intolerant folks), I found less of a problem with plugged milk ducts.

**Alfalfa has been known to increase milk supply. In the cases of engorgement and mastitis where less milk is desirable, Alfalfa is NOT recommended.

3. I "finger-walk"-massaged the plugged milk ducts during and between feedings.

I "walked" (pressed down one finger at a time and switched) my index and middle fingers, massaging and pressing down from the plugged duct to the nipple, as I nursed. I repeated this process several times (five to six times) on the same spot before moving to the next plugged duct. The goal is to get the plugged, dried milk towards and out of the nipple. Massaging in this way helps this happen. 

I found this method more effective than massaging with the heal my hand, or with several fingers together, which only created more pain, or made sore the underlying tissues. The finger walk massage technique was light enough to prevent serious pain, but direct enough to loosen the milk, one plugged duct at a time. I found it relieved the pain and pressure in the plugged areas significantly after doing it. 

4. I rested, rested, rested, and rested some more. 

Whenever I could find an opportunity to nap while the baby was napping, I did. I can't count how many times I woke up from a nap feeling that much more recovered. Our bodies can work double time to fix itself and heal a problem when we are resting.

5. I utilized other sound nursing practices, like

a) changing the nursing position from cradle hold position to side-lying position regularly to help drain more effectively different areas of the breast.  

My absolute most favorite position to nurse is side-lying: this position also give me a chance to rest my aching body and back instead of straining my arm, shoulder, and back muscles from upright nursing positions. Even with a boppy pillow, my body still gets strained from upright nursing compared to side-by-side in bed nursing.

b) I used a hand-held pump (or hand expressing) to drain excess milk and relieve painful pressure whenever baby wasn't awake/didn't want to nurse. This was done only when it was obvious (because of pain and size) that there was too much milk.

The goal is to extract just enough milk to relieve pressure, but not too much milk you tell your breasts/body to make even more milk.

If the nipples are sore, use a nipple softener like this one (or plain coconut or olive oil), just on the tip of the nipple, and not the whole nipple, as it can cause the breast pump or babies mouth to slip around, weakening a healthy, strong latch and potentially causing more pain.

c) Nurse, nurse, nurse whenever baby wants to!!! Get that milk out. Use the opportunity to help dislodge the plugged ducts and drain your breasts of excess milk. The more you nurse on demand (on the demand of your baby), the more you tell the breasts the right amount of milk to make. It's your way of clearly communicating to your body how much milk is and is not needed. 

6. I used immune-supporting supplements as needed. 

a) vitamin c - 1000 mg every two to three hours for the first two days (make sure to drink lots of water)
b) echinacea - followed the recommended dosage on label
c) high potency probiotic - followed recommended dosage
d) liquid kelp - daily recommended dosage 

7. I repeated steps 1-6 until fully recovered (may take days to weeks).

I hope this information will prove/has proven helpful to those in need of it. 

If you have any questions or need further clarification, please leave all queries in the comments below. Please keep all comments and questions respectful. Thank you.

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