Breastfeeding is an amazing experience, but as far as great adventures go, it does have its own unique set of challenges and hurdles.

Right at the tippity top, beside latching issues and cracked nipples is mastitis, which happens when a milk duct becomes blocked and infected.

Most common during the first six to 12 weeks, it tends to start with redness and breast pain, often developing into 'Flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, chills and aching muscles. While some women suffer only mild symptoms, for others it can be a truly miserable and difficult experience.

It affects one in 10 breastfeeding women. Bizarrely however, mastitis is grossly undermentioned and underdiscussed in Irish pre-natal classes, perhaps because of the fear (unfounded) that the mere mention of it may dissuade mums-to-be from giving breastfeeding a shot. But it's a fact of life, and one we here at HerFamily feel should be discussed at length so every available option is at hand should it happen to you. That's why we put a call out to our readers to share their experiences and remedies.

This is what they told us:

"Not to be too dramatic but take to your bed. Rest and nurse as often as possible, pumping when the baby doesn't feel like feeding. It's nasty but it will pass in 48 hours. That was my sister's advice to me and I tell it to my friends now. I also found breastfeeding in various crazy positions helped, it's amazing what you'll try when you're desperate - nursing on my hands and knees was my favourite discovery!" 

-Sile Cotter

"Massaging in small circles while breastfeeding helps. Apparently it stops or helps break up any blockages. Cold cabbage leaves from the freezer are great too. And drink loads of water."

-Laura Kirwan


"My mother-in-law recommended applying heat for 15 minutes, then cold for 15 minutes and alternating as often as possible to unblock the ducts. Applying ice after a feed helps to reduce the swelling too."

-Jennifer Good

"To me mastitis was a sign of my body saying 'slow the hell down'. After my third bout I listened to my body and rested more. Feed, feed, feed from the site side as often as possible. I would not have recovered without antibiotics. I was developing an abscess."

-Clár Ní Threinfhir

"The second time I got really awful mastitis (just three weeks after the first time) I started taking 5000mg of vitamin C per day, half in the morning, half in the evening. I also swear by fresh garlic - mince three or four cloves, mix with butter and spread it on toast to make it more palatable. I fed it to my husband as well so he couldn't mention my serious garlic breath! Any time I feel it coming on now I hit the vitamin C and garlic and I find I can stop it from worsening."

-Jennifer O'Sullivan

"I probably have no right to even post here as I have never had mastitis but I breastfed my three children. My own Mum always reminded me to remember which side I finished feeding on and to start there again. It sounds simple but my God you can be so tired that left and right can become impossible to remember! Sometimes switching a bracelet from one wrist to the other can help. Or put a safety pin in your bra to remind you. Always try to empty the breast completely before switching sides."

-Joan Hogan


"I let my mastitis get worse and worse because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep feeding if I was on antibiotics. Eventually I went to the doctor (in agony) and she prescribed me antibiotics that are safe to take while breastfeeding. If it happened again I wouldn't hesitate. Ask a professional, don't try to tough it out if it gets too much - don't be a martyr, as my mother would say!"

-Gilly Hanlon

"I was told to feed from the affected breast but it was too sore but I found expressing from that side much easier. It was like instant relief. Recognising the symptoms as a first time mum is what is important. I didn't know what was wrong at first."

-Andrina McLeod

"If you feel a bout of mastitis coming on, make a poultice of grated raw potato and keep it on the red or painful part of your breast for as long as you can. This also worked for me using potato slices. I kept them in a bowl of cold water in the fridge (this feels so soothing when you're sore) and popped them on as often as possible, changing for a new one as soon as the potato slice became hot."

-Gemma Grogan

"My sister-in-law in a natural therapist. When I got mastitis after my first baby, she recommended echinacea to boost my immune system and fight the infection and dandelion, which is a natural antibiotic. Widely available from health food shops, dandelion tastes terrible but it worked for me. Oregano oil is another natural antibiotic, rub it on the soles of your feet before you go to bed and when you wake up in the morning. I thought it sounded bonkers but it really seems to work."

-Eimear O'Doherty

"Castor oil compresses (recommended by my Granny, who has 13 children!) really helped when I had mastitis one my second baby. Pour a few tablespoons onto a facecloth, position it over the sore breast, then cover it with a warm hot water bottle or wheat bag. This trick never failed to remove the blockage for me and soften out the area in a few hours."

-Orla Fagan

"I had mastitis by the time I left the hospital on both my babies. Somebody suggested before I had my second that I book a lactation consultant to help with the breastfeeding – which almost drove me to the brink on my first. This was the best €115 I have EVER spent. The minute she saw the baby (three days old) she could see she had posterior tongue-tie. Completely missed by all the midwives in the hospital. Midwives are incredible, but for some reason they aren't trained in how to diagnose tongue-tie. And if the baby can't latch properly, you get blocked ducts. I wish I knew on my first how valuable Lactation Consultants were."

-Sive O'Brien

For more information on mastitis visit the HSE website, speak to your GP or visit a lactation consultant

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breastfeeding, mastitis, reader advice