Gua Sha for Mastitis
If you’re breastfeeding, you may have experienced a clogged duct — a hard, warm spot in your breast that just isn’t draining. Maybe your baby slept through the night (woo-hoo!), but it left your breasts full. Or, maybe your pump isn’t working as effectively as you’d like while you’re at work.
There are a myriad of reasons you can get a clogged duct and it happens to almost every breastfeeding person at least once during their journey.
Clogged ducts can leave your breasts lumpy, swollen, red and in pain. Over time, a clogged duct that isn’t draining, or in which the milk is not reabsorbing back into the body (yes, that happens!), can turn into an infection known as mastitis. This is caused by inflammation in the breast tissue and usually shows up as a fever first.
Dr. Sarah Clampett, PT, DPT, and the Clinical Director at Origin, tells us that most of her clients want to know how to keep a clogged duct from becoming mastitis.
First: get ahead of it. If you’re weaning—a common time for clogs to happen—do it slowly. Start by making a plan: drop one feed per week. This will allow your milk to slow production without risking mastitis. If you do get a clogged duct, it’s totally possible to clear it before it becomes infected.
Start at home: use heat (showers are great), massage, and manual expression to move as much of the milk out as possible. You can also dangle feed, which means laying your baby on their back and dangling your breast over their mouth so they can nurse. Gravity helps the milk move out of the duct.
If those steps are not effective, you can also try meeting with a women’s health physical therapist who will perform some of the methods you’ve tried at home (heat, massage) and will teach you how to self-massage more effectively (good to know for future clogs). They might also try ultrasound, which can break up the clog, and gua sha, a jade tool often used in Chinese medicine.
“I tell any patient who has a history of clogged ducts or mastitis to buy a gua sha,” says Dr. Clampett. “At the earliest signs of a clogged duct, I have my patients apply heat to the breast for 10-15 minutes and then scrape the affected area from the edge of the breast toward the nipple with moderate pressure using the gua sha tool.”
If any of the methods above are working, the area will soften and the pain will decrease. Once that happens, Clampett advises her clients to breastfeed or pump to hopefully pass the clog. If you start to develop a fever, contact your OBGYN or midwife immediately. They can assess your symptoms and prescribe antibiotics if needed.