see also Breast Discomfort During Pregnancy, Breast-Feeding Problems
The best insurance against breast cancer and other problems is regular self-examination of breasts; this should be done just after every period or, if periods have ceased, on same date each month; just before a period breasts can be misleadingly lumpy or tender due to activation of milk-producing tissue; it is also quite normal for one breast to be slightly larger than the other. If you detect anything suspicious, see your medical doctor. You are not wasting his or her time.
Undress to waist and stand in front of mirror. Can you see any differences between breasts when you lean forwards, lift breasts upwards, stretch arms above head, press hands on hips? Things to watch for are different 'hang and 'swing', and areas of dimpling or flattening.
Lie in bath or on bed and feel each breast with flattened fingers. Does one breast feel different from the other? Are there any lumps or areas of thickening or tenderness in breast or armpit? Has one nipple begun to retract or stick out in an odd direction? Is there any discharge from it? Is there any new or persistent pain?
Breast Abscess (Mastitis)
Due to milk stasis in the breast glands post-natally. If breast-feeding, continue to do so unless symptoms are very severe; symptoms are red, painful swelling in breast, some tenderness in armpit glands, and possibly mild Fever. Homeopathic remedies below are recommended as first resort; if they do not work, see your medical doctor; if antibiotics do not subdue infection, abscess may have to be drained. However, antibiotics are best avoided if you are breast-feeding; tell your medical doctor you are breast-feeding if he or she proposes antibiotics, for whatever reason.
Specific remedies to be taken every hour for up to 10 doses
- Abscess brewing, with hardening of breast tissue and pain on slightest movement Bryonia 30c
- Symptoms as above, with red streaks on affected breast Belladonna 30c
- Pain very localized, area extremely tender, irritability Hepar sulph. 30c
- Armpit glands swollen, looking generally pale, feeling shivery Phytolacca 30c
- Nipple cracked and discharging pus, general exhaustion Silicea 30c
Self-help: At first sign of pain bathe breast in hot water. Use gravity to help drain the affected area of milk by positioning breast and baby so that abscess is uppermost. Apply Calendula ointment to nipple. For other self-help measures see Breast-Feeding Problems.
Abnormal production of small quantities of breast milk, usually from both breasts, unrelated to childbirth or breast-feeding; discharge is whitish or greenish; causes include excessive production of milk-stimulating hormone prolactin by pituitary (see Pituitary Problems), malfunction of hypothalamus, cancer of the breast, drugs such as oral contraceptives, tranquillizers, and diuretics, and more rarely injury, burns, or surgery, nervous disorders such as Shingles, and problems with cervical part of spine. Problem affects very few women, notably women who suffer from amenorrhea (see Menstrual Problems), and can occur in men. Milk production ceases once underlying cause is found and treated.
Specific remedies to be taken 4 times daily for up to 7 days
- Discharge of milk follows injury to breast Arnica 30c
- If breast remains swollen after taking Arnica Bellis 6c
- Where breast is hard and painful to touch Conium 6c
Lumps in Breasts
May be due to a cyst (fluid-filled sac of tissue), to fibroadenosis (thickening of milk-producing tissue), to a benign growth, or to Cancer; pain is rare in such cases, so regular self-examination of breasts is important. Only a breast infection or abscess (see above) can be relied on to cause pain; it is also of sudden onset. If you notice any changes in nipple shape, skin colour, skin texture, or ‘hang’ of breasts, or any hard or tender areas you have not felt before, see your medical doctor as soon as possible. Breasts may feel slightly tender before a period, but this is perfectly normal and due to changing hormone levels.
Cysts are conventionally treated by draining off fluid, provided diagnosis has been determined; otherwise they need surgical removal. Benign tumours are also treated by surgical removal; after such treatments, check-ups are carried out every 2 years. In homeopathic medicine, all of these conditions are treated constitutionally, although the remedies listed below may be used while constitutional treatment is being sought. For conventional and homeopathic treatment of malignant tumours, see Cancer.
Specific remedies to be taken 4 times daily for up to 14 days
- Cyst diagnosed, affected area hard and painful, stitching pains in nipple, and itching inside the breast, discomfort worse just before and during period, wanting to press breast hard with hand Conium 6c
- Cysts present, breasts have purplish tinge and feel extra tender before and during period, chill, damp weather and emotional strain make discomfort worse Phytolacca 6c
- Pain comes and goes suddenly, reducing you to tears Pulsatilla 6c
- Breasts swollen, hard, and thickened, nipples sore, cracked, and blistered Graphites 6c
- Breasts painful and engorged with milk at time of period Mercurius 6c
- Breasts red, throbbing, and heavy, lying down makes discomfort worse Belladonna 30c
- Breast feels hard, slightest movement makes pain worse Bryonia 30c
Self-help: Reduce intake of animal fats and of tea, coffee, and other beverages containing caffeine. Occasionally substitute oily fish (herring, mackerel, sardines) for meat or dairy products. An 8-week course of Vitamin E is also recommended, gradually increasing daily dosage from 100 to 600 units; however, if you have High Blood Pressure, check with your medical doctor first as extra Vitamin E can temporarily raise blood pressure. Extra Vitamin B6, magnesium, and zinc, and also Evening Primrose oil and kelp, would also be beneficial.
Dark red discharge from one nipple may indicate a benign tumour called a duct papilloma, which requires surgical removal, or cancer of the breast (see Cancer; white or greenish discharge from both breasts, unrelated to childbirth, may be galactorrhea. Brown area around nipple (areola) can be affected by cysts (see Sebaceous Cysts) or Boils. Eczema only affecting the nipple area may be Paget’s disease, which may lead to cancer. Nipples which do not protrude are said to be retracted or indented; in some women this is quite normal, but may make breast-feeding difficult; recent indentation, however, may be a sign of cancer and requires prompt investigation by medical doctor. For other nipple problems see post-natal breast problems.
Specific remedy to be taken every 12 hours for up to 7 days
- Long-standing indentation of nipples, provided cancer has been ruled out Silicea 30c
General tenderness is quite common before period (see Premenstrual Syndrome); localized pain may be an abscess (see above) or a lump (see above for possible causes).
Except post-natally, when milk glands are working hard, breast tissue is largely fat, laid down and maintained by action of female sex hormone oestrogen; since fat distribution is determined genetically, losing or putting on weight is not an infallible way of reducing or increasing breast size; however, if you are overweight and suffer from pain in neck and shoulders because your breasts are too heavy for the muscles which support them, do try to lose weight; if you are underweight, extra calories will enable you to lay down more fat, which will encourage oestrogen production. Breast reduction is occasionally necessary on medical grounds, breast augmentation almost never.
Homeopathy offers a number of remedies for enlarged or shrunken breasts and associated symptoms; if there is no improvement within 1 month, see your homeopath.
Specific remedies to be taken every 12 hours for up to 7 days
- Breasts large because of fluid retention Natrum mur. 30c
- Breasts heavy and pendulous, especially if woman is obese, pale, and prone to sweats and chills Calcarea 30c
- Enlargement associated with pain and tenderness Conium 30c
- Enlargement associated with darting pains Carbo an. 30c
- Small, flaccid breasts which enlarge and harden before period Conium 30c
- Gradual loss of fatty tissue, bluish-red lumps in skin of breasts, tendency to feel hot all the time Iodum 30c
- Breasts poorly developed or wrinkled and shrunken Sabal 30c