Since August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I thought I’d do a series of posts focused on nursing. As a new mom, I was beside myself when it came to breastfeeding troubles. So I am paying it forward in the hopes of helping another new mom through a tough spot.
I nursed my daughter for 13 months, and plugged ducts were the bane of my existence nearly the entire time. I once had one so bad that it was larger than a golf ball! The lactation consultant at our pediatrician’s office told me if it didn’t clear up within 24 hours (I’d been dealing with the pain at that point for about three days), I would have to go to the ER! I was able to clear the duct so it never came down to a trip to the hospital, but those were some of the most excruciatingly painful days of my life.
Here’s hoping you never, ever have to deal with plugged ducts, but if you do, here are a few tips and tricks that worked for me.
Heat and massage. This is a package deal because neither works as well without the other. Try warm compresses and then massage your breast in a circular motion, pushing the plug toward the center. You can also try massage while laying in a hot bath. One method that finally brought me relief was to lean, submerged, over a huge bowl of hot water and massage downward. I will warn you that the massaging hurts, but if it clears the duct, it’s so worth it.
Lecithin. This supplement is what finally helped me prevent plugged ducts. You can get it in capsule or granule form (I recommend the capsule) from Target or Walmart. I took one 1200 mg pill three times a day like clockwork.
Try “dangle feeding.” As if you don’t already feel like a cow, this method just perpetuates the feeling that you exist solely for the purpose of milking. But while it feels strange, it did work for me once. Lay your baby on his or her back on the floor and get on all fours over top. Allow your baby to nurse in this position to allow gravity to help clear the plugged duct.
Don’t stop nursing! I made this mistake the first time I had a plugged duct. It hurt so badly that I stopped nursing on that side. BIG mistake. Even though it hurts, try nursing on the plugged side first. When your baby is really hungry, the suck reflex is stronger, which could end up helping you out. If it’s just too painful to nurse, at least pump on the blocked side. The one thing you don’t want to do is allow more milk to back up in there.
Take care of yourself. Trust me, I know this is easier said than done when you have a little person (or two or three) relying on you for everything, but it’s really important. Be sure to get some rest, drink lots of water, and eat healthfully. Ask for some temporary help if you need it to give yourself a break. I wasn’t very good about doing this at first, but once I did, I think it really made a difference (both for my recurring plugged ducts and for my sanity).
Try Ibuprofen. A plugged duct causes major inflammation, so some Ibuprofen can help with both that and the pain. Check with your doctor to find out exactly how much you should take.
While it may feel like the plug will never go away (my longest one lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of four days!), it does eventually clear up, so try not to panic. If you start to run a fever or show other symptoms, call your doctor. If after several days of nursing and treatment you still have a plugged duct, talk to a lactation consultant or your doctor. There are medical procedures, such as ultrasound, that can help in extreme cases.