This article contains posts and extracts from the UK Midwives and Consumers email list, a discussion group for people interested in midwifery in the UK. Open to midwives, students, mothers, and anyone interested in improving maternity services in UK. Posts in these archives express the views of the individual authors, and not those of the Association of Radical Midwives. Unless otherwise stated, the comments are personal experiences rather than evidence-based research.

Breastfeeding: Mastitis and Blocked Ducts


Some of the discussions on this page were published in Midwifery Matters No. 85, Summer 2000.

  • Links to other sources of information

I am trying to get some information for a friend on alternative treatments for mastitis as she is very reluctant to take antibiotics with the fear that she will pass some of it on to her daughter through her milk. She is not going to give up breastfeeding for anything, she is very stubborn, good for her, so could anyone out there offer us some advice. We have tried the hot towels, keeping the breast as empty as possible, massage, all of the usual things and keep in mind that this is her sixth child. I wonder if there are any homeopathic or alternative treatments.

Cabbage Leaves
Cabbage leaves. Pure and simple. Very effective.

Herbal Remedy

This is a formula I made years ago and works well. 1 oz dropper bottle mix in equal parts of Phytoloacca – Poke root, Bryonia, Gelsemium and Borage. Shake well each time before use. She takes 5 drops of the mixture orally 3 times daily for 2 weeks. I have treated serious cases of mastitis with only this. The mom will start to feel better quickly. But I also have her put a bag of frozen peas in her bra for 15 mins, then a warm moist pack on for 15 mins. Alternate- do this for the first 14 hrs. Have her take Ibruprofen for the pain from the inflammation. Some moms have taken 4 – 200 mg tablets every 4 hrs. She should rest as often as possible and take 2 000 mg of vit C every 4 hrs.

Personal Experience

Hi, I have had mastitis lots of times whilst breast feeding and jolly unpleasant it is. I am a no antibiotic person, preferring to use herbs and homeopathy in their place. I am doing a course on homeopathy for midwives but have cared for many women who use the remedies for themselves and talked to many homeopaths about it as well. I have personally and in the women I have worked with, found Sherri’s remedy combination very effective and likewise seen many women treat the mastitis with only this. Also the vit C to boost the immune system is one I have great faith in.

My experience is that antibiotics only suppress it and it often comes back a few weeks later I think this may be because the kind of mastitis and blocked ducts (which give similar symptoms) are not infection with bacteria as such but an inflammation of the tissues. I have often found this to be because of poor positioning at the breast it may only be a millimetre out but if it goes on long term it will just keep causing the problem.

The other thing that seems to make women very prone to breast problems like this is stress and exhaustion and this is a factor in many women’s lives these days, I see a remarkable difference in women who can take good quality rest for some weeks after the birth; all aspects of life after birth seem to settle down better.


Blocked Ducts

I do not believe that antibiotics are relevant in most cases of Mastitis as the inflammation is a cellulitis of the tissues due to a duct being blocked, the milk causes a toxin to be released into the blood stream because of the back flow due to the pressure from the milk which cannot be released. In turn this causes the mother to be pyrexial, and in great pain.

The aim must be to release this milk by allowing the baby to feed on this side more often in an attempt to empty it. Trying to change positions for the baby may unblock the duct (hold the baby with legs under mother’s arm and hand behind head, also support the breast underneath but do not press on it). Make sure her bra is not causing any pressure on a certain place.

I once had a mother who, when I was off duty, went to see her GP. She was immediately sent to see the surgeons, they operated for a breast abscess, all they found was cellulitis, the wound was packed and she was told to stop using this breast and only to feed from the other one. However, she was very determined and, once she returned home, eventually the wound healed and she managed to continue feeding, but only after considerable distress. Cabbage leaves, well washed, and not put anywhere near the nipples, but around the breast can give great relief by removing some of the oedema and have a soothing effect.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

It’s worth remembering that it is often the anti-inflammatory property of antibiotics that causes the apparently dramatic relief of symptoms (usually within 24 hours) – rather than any dramatic zapping of non-existent bugs. As has been pointed out, a similar effect can usually be achieved with robust doses of Brufen.

I would add seat belts and baby carriers to the list of things that may be putting pressure on the breast.


I’ve also seen `mastitis’/ blocked ducts arising from three other situations: firstly when the mother presses her breast away from her baby’s nose with one finger; secondly when the breasts are very large and allowed to sag down during feeding so the segments on the underside are poorly drained. (Support and gentle massage during feeding with the flat of the hand – well back from the areolar – can make an enormous difference to the latter.)

Thirdly, repeated pinching and thumping from an enthusiastic older baby can also damage the delicate breast tissue enough to cause a blockage.

Take it Lying Down!

I found feeding the baby in a lying down position with the baby and mother parallel, and the baby feeding from the upper nipple very effective for clearing the blockage. It takes a bit of practice to be able to lie comfortably without rolling onto the baby, but I found it worked every time. Drink plenty of water as well.

Links to other sources of information:

US Midwife Archives discussions on mastitis

La Leche League detailed article on mastitis and plugged ducts.

La Leche League brief article for mothers, on sore breasts

Jane’s Breastfeeding and Childbirth Resources

Blocked ducts and mastitis‘ by Dr Jack Newman, on the above site

AH updated 8 July 2000


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