Today’s post is all about how to prevent and relieve plugged ducts and ultimately avoid mastitis!
A few weeks ago- in the midst of a big move and trying to work out again, I began to feel “not like myself”. I didn’t feel sick but I did feel extremely sore and lethargic. Because I was working out again and just more busy than normal, I assumed that the new daily routines were just taking a toll on my body. Once the new found soreness wore off of most of my body, I realized that it remained in one spot. I was still extremely sore, almost in pain, on my left breast! I began googling “mastitis”, fearful that this was happening to me. After reading the signs and symptoms I realized that I did not have mastitis YET- this was just a plugged duct. I also knew I had to do everything in my power to avoid it and here is what I did!
Before I begin my tips, I want to direct you to my disclaimer and say that I am not a doctor. I am, however, a Registered Nurse and Certified Breastfeeding Specialist (and a breastfeeding mother). Regardless, always check with your personal doctor before taking anyone’s advice on the internet!
Also, this post may contain affiliate links. You can learn more about that in the disclaimer as well!
The signs and symptoms of a plugged duct are pretty noticeable. They consist of:
small lump in the breast
For me, it wasn’t necessarily small- the area was just hardened. When I compared one side to the other, I could tell the overall differences. The painful side definitely felt more knotted up than the other.
the breast or affected area is painful to touch; very tender
You will know the pain, I couldn’t even sleep on my side comfortably.
warmth and redness in the breast
How do I prevent and relieve plugged ducts?
Take it easy!
Resting is crucial to your healing! If possible, make sure to rest the entire day. No cooking, no cleaning, no chasing around your other little ones if you have them. Either call over some help for the day or give that kid unlimited screen time and permission to destroy the entire house. You have to take care of yourself in this time and rest is the main key to getting better!
I lounged around the house the entire day, only getting up to spend a little time with Baby E. Overall, I didn’t feel like I could move anyways. So this wasn’t hard.
Empty your breast
FEED ON DEMAND. If you have a schedule, now is the time to throw that out. Feed the baby as much and as often as you can to unplug the duct. The sucking has enough force to dislodge that plug. Then you can have your normal milk flow. If your baby isn’t hungry or doesn’t want to feed and you are still in pain, get out your electric pump! Because I could still feel the hardness in my breast, I had to use my pump after each feeding to ensure that the milk was being removed. Make sure to massage the sore area while using the pump. The combination of Baby J nursing plus the pump ensured that the most milk was being removed. Note: when you remove the milk, you may notice that it’s sort of stringy or clumpy looking- that’s totally normal and you can still give it to the baby!
Also, if you don’t want to continue pumping (because that will also increase your production), you can use hand expression! With hand expression, you’re just squeezing the breast with your hand to get the milk out.
Ultimately, your goal is to get that milk out of your breast! The longer in stays clogged in there, the worst you’ll end up. The milk that is just sitting in your breast will go “bad” and that’s how you end up with mastitis.
Alternate between hot and cold
So, some people will just say to use one or the other but both worked best for me.
Heat: Use heat before each feed or pump. The heat will sort of make it to where the lump is more soft and easier to break down. The heat also opens up your ductal flow so the milk can just slide on through! I recommend warm showers and letting the heat hit your chest. While in the shower, utilizing massage and hand expression is great. You can also use warm compresses (heated towels, etc). I found these gel pads to be the most effective because they can be heated and frozen! More bang for your buck.
Cold: The best time to use cold is after a feeding. This will sort of halt the milk flow and also relieve the swelling that occurs from the plugged duct. The cold mostly helped me with pain relief in this time. You can use a regular ice pack or the gel pads that I mentioned before and (in my breastfeeding essentials post).
If I hadn’t already typed this out, I would move this bullet point to the top! Massaging the affected area during this time provided the best outcome. So you better massage the area while nursing the baby, while pumping, while in the shower, while using hand expression, and while using heat! The whole point is to get that knot out of your breast and open up the duct. When you massage, you are breaking down that knot of milk.
Use the proper medication
I hate taking medication but I felt so bad that I actually took pain relievers. I’ve read that people take other medications but I personally can only recommend the pain relievers (ibuprofen) because that is what helped me in my time of need!
Definitely reach out to your doctor and see if they recommend any different over the counter or herbal medications!
The easy suggestion on the list, right?! Just take that bra OFF for the day and be FREE! So by removing your bra, you’re removing any area that cuts off circulation (or flow) to your nipple (where the milk comes out). So by doing this, you’re basically relieving the area of restriction and assisting with max milk removal.
Switch feeding positions
I usually feed Baby J in the same positions because it’s easier for me. One of the main factors in getting plugged ducts is not switching the position more often. Because of the way the baby’s mouth is positioned, he/she is only removing milk through certain channels. If you move the baby around, his/her mouth will compress different areas- therefore releasing milk from different ducts. So try switching up positions (now and forever).
So, that’s what has worked for me so far. If these don’t relieve your symptoms and start to develop chills and/or a fever, that’s mastitis and you need to see your doctor immediately!!