Mastitis: Using Chinese Medicine to assist symptoms

From the outset we make it clear that we are a Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic and not trained lactation specialists.  The information contained herein is intended to add to conventional breastfeeding education and should not replace the expertise and advice of your trained lactation consultant.

This information might be used by women for whom a conventional medical approach is not their first choice and who are looking for adjunctive or alternative options.

It might also be used by women interested in enhancing the effects of conventional advice and treatment, or those who have found such advice to be ineffective.

Most women will have received basic breastfeeding instruction before they take their baby home.  As with labour, however, no woman can ever be completely prepared for the actual experience and demands breastfeeding places on her body.

Breast engorgement

Breast engorgement is a condition that commonly appears 3-5 days post-partum and is due to increased blood and lymphatic fluids congesting in the breast, just before true lactation comes in. The symptoms are essentially hard, swollen, painful breasts.

Before nursing, women should have a warm bath or shower or apply a heat pack to the breast area to help stimulate the letting down of the breast milk.

Between feeding, cabbage leaves can be used to sooth sore, inflamed nipples.

  • Use a refrigerated cabbage leaf that has been rolled out flat with a rolling pin so that the veins of the cabbage are crushed to release the juice.
  • Insert the cabbage leaf under the bra, cupping the whole breast, with the rolled side facing towards the skin.
  • Change two-hourly and repeat as needed.
  • Cease immediately once the symptoms resolve

Relieving cracked, sore or inflamed nipples

Nature always produces perfect solutions.  Making a habit of smearing each nipple with hind milk post feed will help to naturally protect and nourish the nipples and prevent them from cracking.

Chinese Medicine wisdom instructs women to never apply ice directly on to the nipple.  Ice is too intensely cold and will ‘freeze’ the circulation and energy flow to the nipple affecting milk supply.  If you are overwhelmingly compelled to use ice to cool the inflammation it is relatively better to wrap the ice in a damp handtowel and dab it over the whole breast for short periods, frequently.

Blocked ducts

Blocked ducts is a condition typically presenting as a painful, swollen, firm mass in the breast, often with overlying skin redness, similar to mastitis though not usually as severe.

Blocked ducts will almost always resolve spontaneously within 24-48 hours, but the condition can lead to mastitis.  If symptoms persist, acupuncture can be very useful.

Acupuncturists will use a needling technique called ‘surrounding the dragon’ where acupuncture pins are positioned around the blocked duct into the fatty breast tissue just outside of the area of inflammation.

While this technique may sound traumatic it is usually painless.


Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast which can lead to a bacterial infection.  It is characterised by an often-painful area of hardness, redness or swelling in the breast, which is usually hot to the touch and is typically accompanied by flu-like symptoms, joint aches, fever (38.5C or above) and chills.

If the symptoms get worse, or fail to improve after 24-48 hours, it is highly likely that a bacterial infection has occurred and antibiotic treatment will be the necessary medical course of action.

Chinese Medicine is not Western Medicine and will never replace antibiotic treatment.  There is however what could broadly be described as ‘herbal antibiotic equivalents’.  These herbs are clearly not antibiotics and work via a completely different mechanism and understanding.

If a woman has a history of recurrent mastitis and breast infections it would be common for her Chinese medicine practitioner to supply her with a herbal formula that she can have at home for first aid use should symptoms reoccur.