The Dreaded Mastitis

About a week and a half ago I was drafting a post entitled The Pros and Cons of Breastfeeding (watch this space for that one!) which began with the words, I feel incredibly lucky to have – thus far – had quite an unproblematic breastfeeding experience.

Tempting fate there, you might think – and you’d be right: less than forty-eight hours afterwards, that good old hand of fate slapped me with a nasty bout of Mastitis. I won’t go into the whole mechanics of Mastitis (Doctor Google has plenty of info) other than to say that it involves a build-up of milk in the breast, followed by infection.


Now it seems (according to the aforementioned Dr Google) that a lot of the time Mastitis is caused by improper latching-on or missed feeds or other breastfeeding mishaps, but in my case there didn’t seem to be anything unusual. We still haven’t managed to get into a routine, so I can’t be positive about the missed feed thing, but certainly everything seemed normal. No cracked nipples, no engorgement…. The only thing I can think of is that I wore my “daytime” feeding bra to bed, and unlike the “nighttime” feeding bra (Emma Jane, soft, cheap, amazing, here) it had a more rigid band that had perhaps crept up and cut into the breast tissue at the bottom of my boob. That’s certainly where the hard blockage (ugh) seemed to be…

Anyway, cue massive bright red streaks across the breast and extreme flu-like symptoms. Man did I feel ill. And usually, I hate taking antibiotics, because they really don’t agree with my internals, but in this case I hot-footed it to the doctor faster than you could say “tummy upset”. I had waited for twelve hours and my symptoms were steadily getting worse, not better, and I just needed to nip (ha!) the whole thing in the bud. Being ill with a little baby is not fun. And having to breastfeed with a lumpy hot mass of plasticine-breast is just awful – I am going to do everything humanly possible to never get Mastitis again! No more bras to bed – I’d rather launder my sheets daily and wake up soaked in milk than get hot-lump-boob another time!

One thing I didn’t try, actually: cabbage leaves. By the time I had got into a position to be able to go to the shops (husband was working away), the antibiotics had kicked in. But so many readers on A Model Recommends suggested them that they will be my first port of call if I ever have the misfortune of getting Mastitis again. I’ll be stockpiling those cabbages.

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  1. Natasha
    October 12, 2015 / 6:23 pm

    O man. That sucks!! I have also had boob-flu (only once , thankfully) and wouldn’t wish it upon anyone! Except maybe some men ; ) I truly hope you never need the cabbage leaves. It inly helped for me while it was cold and it makes you smell a little like farr (sorry. A bit gross, I know!). Ice packs worked much better for me. Hope you are feeling a 100% by now!

  2. Anna
    October 12, 2015 / 7:07 pm

    Oh Ruth! Mastitis is the worst- and your husband was away?!? So glad you made it through. I just wanted to add my voice to those suggesting cabbage leaves any time you find yourself with a clogged milk duct (even if it doesn’t turn to an infection).

  3. Claire L
    October 12, 2015 / 7:13 pm

    Sounds awful. I’ve not had mastitis (luckily) but I’ve had tonsillitis and ear infections which make you feel ill so I do sympathise. I pumped for 3.5 months for my baby in neonatal care (she was born at 26 weeks) then breastfed for 2.5 months, it did her good but I stopped as she was starting to bite me and I was getting colds almost twice a month and starting to get run down. A friend of mine had awful mastitis twice, there’s so much to think of when you’re breastfeeding, are you producing enough, etc., it can be a little stressful. I found it easier when I switched to formula and my 20 month old is really strong and healthy, so I’ve no regrets. I do admire those mums who breastfeed for longer though!

  4. Jo
    October 12, 2015 / 9:00 pm

    Sorry to hear, Ruth. I’ve had it three times (son is 9m) and it feels worse than flu! The last time was recently in an attempt to drop the 3am feed, despite some expressing. I guess I’ll be feeding in the night for a while (what would my HV say!). I can’t offer any tips, other than the standard regular feeds and hot showers/massages. But let’s hope it was your last time. Great blog as ever. Jo

  5. Onya1213
    October 12, 2015 / 10:43 pm

    So relieved you’re feeling improved. Ten years ago, if you searched my apartment, my briefcase, my desks in two offices, my cupboards, my pocketbook, the car glove compartment, anyplace where rogue meds might be found, you would never ever have come upon an antibiotic. I used herbal remedies and mostly Eastern, noninvasive medicine and health care. Then my car was rear-ended by a truck, with me in it, and serious injuries ensued. These took quite a toll on my immune system and I seemed to develop one infection right after another. Weekly, it seemed. Finally caved and took some antibiotics. The result was akin to discovering the wheel, I imagine. Wonder drugs, they were. I don’t toss one down my throat every time I sniffle, but I do now concede there are times when only antibiotics can effect a cure. So glad they helped you. As is A, no doubt.

  6. Georgie
    October 13, 2015 / 5:41 am

    Oh hope your feeling better now it is horrible, I have never had the proper flu but mastitis is the closest thing to it. I once had a friend come round to my house with her newborn and tell me ‘yeah, I’ve got a touch of mastitis’ with a little grimace. I must have given her the dirtiest look ever, “er I doubt it If you’re here’ and very patronisingly say ‘are you sure it’s not a blocked duct’ horrible illness- I’m sure you are adding ‘mastitis to your article on breastfeeding now’ x

  7. Rachel
    October 13, 2015 / 6:19 am

    Sorry to hear you’ve experienced the awful world of mastitis! I’ve had it numerous times and found that drinking a LOT of water helps no end. It would get rid of the tight, swollen feeling, and in a day or two the symptoms would have disappeared completely. My doctor refused to prescribe antibiotics after my 5th journey so I had to find a different method to get rid of it.
    Also, hit and cold compress helps.

  8. Evie
    October 13, 2015 / 6:41 am

    Hey Ruth,
    I left a comment on your other website reccomending dangle feeding, but I’ve just remembered something else! If you can manage it, eat raw garlic – I did this twice and it worked. You have to eat a lot (about 5 cloves a day, I chopped them into bits and swallowed them like pills) and you will be oozing garlic from every pore but it’s preferable to getting mastitis! It nipped (sorry) it in the bud for me 🙂

  9. Harriet
    October 13, 2015 / 7:37 am

    Hey Ruth,
    My sister went through the same thing and swears by running some water into a clean nappy and then freezing them as a cabbage replacement!
    Hope that helps!

  10. Jo.C
    October 13, 2015 / 8:35 am

    I had boob-flu with my youngest, oh the pain, unfortunately the only thing I had available were carrots so I used a warm flannel on the ole melons. Funny thing was I wasn’t even breast feeding.

  11. Esta Williams
    October 13, 2015 / 8:51 am

    Should have tried Bosom Buddies Breastfeeding Survival Kit, lot nicer than cabbage leaves!!

  12. Littlewylde
    October 13, 2015 / 10:00 am

    May I recommend the breastfeeding hide support vests from h&m, great to wear day and night and extra long. They are in the mama range and the band at the bottom is not restrictive.

  13. Sam
    October 13, 2015 / 10:16 am

    Oh god I had it a few weeks ago wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. My baby is a few weeks younger than yours so I’ve been on the breastfeeding journey with you 🙂

  14. Ellen
    October 13, 2015 / 11:10 am

    Just a little tipp: When you do have mastitis or clugged milk ducts, make sure your baby’s chin points in the direction of the infection while breastfeeding. This way this part of the breast ist “emptied” more effectively and hurts less. It also leads to funny breastfeeding-positions, but who cares?

  15. Sally
    October 13, 2015 / 11:14 am

    Boob flu is the worst! It was the final straw that broke my breastfeeding camel’s back, if you will, and I wouldn’t wish it on another! We had a pretty horrendous bf journey, and mastitis was just an extra kick when I was already at what I felt was my lowest. I never tried the cabbage thing either, but lots of people recommended it so if I’m brave enough to try and feed baba number 2 myself, I’ll stock up on the Savoys from the get go.

    Angelica is stunning, btw xx

  16. October 13, 2015 / 11:22 am

    Uh, that sounds awful. I am tempted to say that I never experienced that with my first child, but I am afraid i will jinx myself for the second on its way…

  17. Shad Neupane
    October 13, 2015 / 11:30 am

    Hi Ruth! I feel you on this! I’ve been breastfeeding for 7months now and have had all sorts of breast/nipple-related issues that come with breastfeeding. The worse bit is when you’re in pain and having a temperature and the shivers, and your infant thinks it’s hilarious whenever you groan whilst Goodluck with your breastfeeding experience! 😉 Little A is a beauty!xx

  18. Nina
    October 13, 2015 / 12:38 pm

    I’m so glad you tired the cabbage leaves trick. I had mastitis 3 times with my second baby and it really helped along side the antibiotics. Have you looked at the website. Its got some really good advice about breastfeeding, mastitis and how to prevent it xxx

  19. Elaine
    October 13, 2015 / 4:38 pm

    look up biological nursing. Sometimes if you feed in the same position you don’t drain all areas of the breast.
    Also it probably was your bra as the milk needs to flow from all areas, cheap mothercare no support bras are the best for night. And lanolin breast pads I found to be the most efficient x

  20. Kim
    October 13, 2015 / 10:16 pm

    I feel your pain. 🙁 I never got full-fledged mastitis, but I had frequent problems with blocked ducts. Cold never worked for me, but filling a diaper with water, heating it until it was uncomfortably warm (putting a diaper in the microwave always seems so wrong, but there you go), and applying it to the unhappy boob helped. As did taking lecithin supplements – that worked better after the first three months than it did at first. Sometimes, too, if you massage you can feel little beads in the breast. If you concentrate on them and help break them up, that can clear up the problem. They will usually be higher up than the most painful spot, thankfully. I hope this is your one bout with it and you don’t need any of the advice, but just in case. Blocked ducts are so painful.

  21. Katharina
    October 14, 2015 / 9:38 am

    oh dear, this is awful, I still remember it…. 🙁

    when you feel a clogged milk thingy next time, make sure you place A’s chin there and massage the nod away while she is drinking. here in germany we put curd cheese (this is what gives me for quark) on it right away from the fridge. make sure it do not touch the nipple and enjoy the relief. I think I got three times altogether, the first was when my mother-in-law was around because of all the stress she brought with her :-/

    my widwife also recommended to warm honey and put it on to soak out the infection. again, never bring it onto the nipples (honey can be very dangerous for babies). worked perfectly for me when alternating with the quark.

    you might also get it when A is growing a lot, drinking a lot and then switching back to “normal” so be prepared and have the fridge stocked up 😉 a sip of peppermint tea can help then as well. peppermint as well as salvia are limiting the milk flow and that can be helpful in small doses as well sometimes.

    best wishes,


  22. Lucy Honeychurch
    October 16, 2015 / 6:53 am

    My fabulous doctor had twins, so when it came to mastitis there was no mucking around. She even gave me an extra ‘just in case this ever happens after hours’ script to tide me over. Praise be! I guess she’d been there done that.

    I had more than one episode of mastitis. Ruth, my cautionary tale would be to only massage hot areas on your boob for so long (even if you don’t feel as flue like as you have this time) before going to your doctor. I was a day off having to have surgery and had to drive into the city to get green gunge sucked out in a large syringe by a breast specialist for two weeks. No small feat with a small baby, when you’re feeling unwell and just plain exhausted.

    I found cabbage leaves worked well in conjunction with a trip to the doctor. I’m pleased you’re feeling better, mastitis is not a joy is it?

  23. anna
    October 17, 2015 / 2:39 pm

    Hi! No need to soak the sheets! ,maybe try strategically placing a clean small towel over the chest when sleeping. So much easier to wash and you can keep a stash dry and ready to replace when waking up for night feeds. Also the absorbent nature of towels will keep you from waking up from the uncomfortable cold wetness of soaked jammies. Love your blog!
    Ah if you are the type to roll when sleeping,then loosely secure the towel into the loose soft bra straps.
    You can also sleep with a backup towel under your pillow, so its warm and ready to go.

  24. helena2490
    October 24, 2015 / 9:30 pm

    Interesting that you mentioned wearing the ‘wrong’ bra to bed as i got mastitis for what appeared to be no real reason (tongue tie daughter seemed to latch well and we had managed to work around that problem with positioning, whilst waiting for our referral to have it clipped) the only thing i had done different was wear a wire bra to bed the night before. i since have done it again in my sleepy haze and i did notice the signs again but managed to unblock it…… i think there really must be such a thing as the ‘wrong bra’ and it appears to be those padded or wired ones.

    • October 25, 2015 / 9:54 pm

      Yeah this one wasn’t even wired, it just had a thicker bit of elastic than my sleep one and when I woke up it was cutting across the bottom of my boob! I don’t think it was a coincidence… x

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