Baby Mermy has transformed breastfeeding into a most engaging activity. For him. For instance, he loves to blow air bubbles on my breast instead of drinking (having the added bonus of causing let down that he has absolutely no interest in drinking – cue milk sprays and milk-covered clothes). Or he loses interest in drinking because other things are catching his eye and attention (damn you, shadows!) and doesn’t drain the breast completely. As much as I love that he’s enjoying himself, the unfortunate side effect is that I sometimes end up with plugged milk ducts, and they are about as much fun as being jabbed in the nipple by a baby who screams bloody murder when you try to cut his nails. Not exactly the way I would like to spend my days. When you are in pain from plugged milk ducts (and believe me, they are quite uncomfortable), the last thing you want to do is undertake research on how to alleviate your pain. Not to worry! I have listed some methods that have worked for me and I hope will help you too. Keep this page bookmarked so that you can reference it quickly when in need!
In addition to not fully draining the breast, plugged milk ducts can be caused by skipped or infrequent feedings, pressure on the breast (wired bras are sometimes the culprit), and inflammation caused by bacteria or yeast, etc. You will know you have a plugged milk duct when you feel a lump often only in one breast, that feels either tender, hot, swollen, and/or red. It may also seem that your milk supply has diminished but this is temporary and, once the plugged duct is corrected, your supply should return to normal. Nursing often will help to reduce the size and discomfort of the lump.
Some techniques that I have used to alleviate my discomfort from plugged milk ducts are as follows:
- Frequent nursing
Obvious, I know, but it’s the most helpful method to unplug those milk ducts. When your breast is extremely engorged, it can be difficult for the baby to latch on effectively. Massaging your breast right before the nursing session can help the flow of milk This is also a good excuse to escape for a shower: massaging your breast under hot water is extremely beneficial in releasing the milk flow. Additionally, you can massage your breast while the little one nurses to create a double suction effect.
2. Changing positions
Carrying on from the above, changing the direction your baby’s head is positioned may also help relieve the plugged milk ducts. Have your baby’s nose and chin point towards the plugged duct to ensure that that duct gets drained first. Of course, if your baby is like Baby Mermy, chances are that he or she will not oblige in being asked to change his or her nursing position; in such cases, you will find yourself contorting yourself to angle him or her appropriately. I like to refer to it as nursing gymnastics and fully consider it a workout.
Another way is to actually lean over your little one so that he or she latches on while you dangle above in a pseudo table-top position. As uncomfortable as that sounds, gravity will be at work allowing the milk to flow down and hopefully out. Be extremely careful when attempting this move as it is possible that the duct unplugs and the milk shoots out too fast, posing a potential choking hazard. Alternatively, you could also try pumping in this position for a safer alternative. Which leads me to my next point.
After you have nursed your little one, if the lump still exists, pump. The suction effect should help to release some of the milk still clogging the ducts. Of course, I advise that you don’t do this in front of your little one like I did. It was a complete accident of course, but Baby Mermy looked at me with both indignation and sadness that I could do such a thing especially in front of him.
4. Warm, moist heat and/or hot bath
As I mentioned above, taking a hot bath or shower can help open up the plugged milk duct. Additionally, applying a hot, moistened towel (be careful not to burn yourself) to your breast will also help not only relieve the pressure but also open the duct. If possible, do both: shower first and then apply the warm, moist heat in the form of hot towel to the breast and gently massage it. Immediately after, nurse your little one.
Now, before you laugh at the idea of resting with a little one around, hear me out. Resting at this point is particularly important for your body to attempt at regulating itself and preventing stress from affecting your milk supply. Even just sitting back on the sofa with your feet up while your little one naps has benefits. Try it out particularly while you have plugged milk ducts to alleviate the discomfort sooner.
Trying some or all of these methods will hopefully unplug the milk ducts quickly and give you some relief. If the plugged duct is coupled with an achy feeling similar to having the flu, then you could be experiencing mastitis, which is an infection of the breast and may necessitate antibiotics. Please speak to your doctor and seek care as needed. Mastitis does not affect the milk itself; frequent nursing will help alleviate the symptoms here as well.
I hope this has helped. If you have used other methods, I would love to hear about them!
United in diapering,