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How to treat mastitis without antibiotics

For anyone who has ever suffered from mastitis, you know how painful it can be. But did you know that it is the number 1 reason that most women prematurely stop breastfeeding? I always thought that antibiotics and rest were the only treatment for mastitis. I was wrong! There is another way to treat the inflammation caused by mastitis.

I chatted to Physiotherapist and Women’s Health specialist Erin Hickingbotham from The Physiotherapy Clinic about a new way of treating mastitis.

What is mastitis

Mastitis is inflammation of the breast caused by a blocked milk duct. It may or may not be accompanied by an infection.  But what causes the pain isn’t the infection, it’s actually the inflammation. Up to 33% of breastfeeding women will suffer an episode of mastitis. The highest incidence occurs in the first 2-3week post-partum and is g.

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 Can you treat mastitis without antibiotics?

Yes! Antibiotics are not your only option for treating mastitis. In some cases, you might not require antibiotics at all.  Women’s Health Physio’s can treat mastitis using therapeutic ultrasound. So you can treat the pain and discomfort of mastitis whilst you wait to get a diagnosis to see whether or not you also have an infection. The diagnosis of an accompanying infection requires pathology to analyse a sample of your breast milk.

What are some signs that mastitis is coming?

Signs and symptoms to look for:

  • Redness
  • Pain and heat
  • Engorged / blocked / firm / lumps felt in the breast
  • Temperature
  • Flu like symptoms

When I had Allegra, I was told to apply cabbage leaves to sore swollen breasts and rub out the lumps. Is that wrong?

Yes! That is actually the wrong way to treat mastitis. You should NOT apply pressure and/or massage your breast! Imagine your inflamed breast as a sprained ankle, would you massage that inflammation? Certainly not, so why would you massage your breast?

Recent studies have shown that there are 8-12 ducts per breast. Previously the idea behind massaging the breast to clear blockages is that each duct runs in a nice uniform lines. But actually, they form a complex web as they spread out through the breast. So if you rub or massage the breast, you can damage the blood vessels in the breast and actually damage the ducts. This will cause further blockages.

This can also lead to the development of an abscess which may need to be drained via needle aspiration.  Prevention is the best medicine for an abscess so always be nice and gentle with your breasts!

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Wow! So what should we do?

What you can do:

  • Get lots of rest (don’t be scared to ask for help)
  • Boost your immune system by eating well, reducing stress levels and of course, getting lots of rest!
  • Do not miss/skip or have erratic feeding patterns (even when in pain try to feed as normal)
  • If it is too painful to feed try expressing, pumping or a nipple shield until you can resume normal feeding patterns with the affected breast
  • Avoid compressive forces particularly wire bras, fingers or sleeping on your tummy
  • Be very gentle and kind to your breasts

How will my physio help?

Your physio will help by:

  • Treating your breast! In our Clinic we use therapeutic ultrasound, this is a time for you to sit back and relax. The treatment is pain free, allowing you some time to catch up on that much needed rest for your recovery
  • Giving you all the right advice and great tips and tricks on feeding, rest, supplements and exercises
  • Helping you to prevent reoccurrence
  • We can also supply you with other treatment techniques if we feel necessary such as taping and support garments

Any final tips?

If you or someone you know is suffering from mastitis, send them in the direction of a Women’s Health Physiotherapist who is equipped with therapeutic ultrasound!

Erin is a lovely Physiotherapist at the The Physiotherapy Clinic in Bondi Junction. She specialises in Women’s Health and Contintence. You can get in touch with her here!


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