Any Mother who is breastfeeding or pumping is at risk for developing clogged ducts and mastitis. What is a clogged duct you might ask? A clogged duct occurs when an area of the breast becomes blocked and is unable to properly express milk from that side of the breast. Lumps or swelling may occur from the clogged duct which can lead to pain during nursing or pumping until the duct is cleared.
When your milk duct is not cleared properly it can lead to mastitis. Mastitis is severe swelling caused by a clogged milk duct, allergy or infection. It has the same general properties as a clogged duct, but the symptoms are more severe. Mastitis is no fun, and it can be a nightmare for a breastfeeding or pumping mom. You will find information in this post about how to avoid clogged ducts and how to deal with mastitis.
Avoiding Clogged Ducts
The best treatment for any condition or disease is prevention! That is something that is well-known and taught throughout the healthcare community. With that being said, the best way to prevent getting mastitis is to avoid getting clogged ducts. Here are some tips and tricks to help avoid clogged ducts.
- Try to maintain a breastfeeding or pumping schedule. Huge variations in schedule can lead to a back up in your milk which can sometimes create clogs. This is more likely to happen if you all of a sudden go longer periods without pumping or breastfeeding.
- Pump often! Even if you are nursing and there are long breaks between your nursing sessions, make sure to pump in between to avoid clogged ducts. If you start getting engorged (when your breasts swell up with so much milk to the point of increased pressure and/or discomfort) and can not nurse, you should pump. Staying engorged can lead to clogs.
- Make sure you thoroughly empty your breasts at each pumping session. If you are nursing and do not think the baby has emptied your breast completely, pumping after your nursing session can help prevent clogs.
- If you are nursing, make sure to change positions of the baby and switch breasts often. Always nursing in the same position causes repetitive pressure to the same areas of the breast, which can lead to clogs.
- Avoid tight bras and shirts. Placing too much compression or pressure on the breasts can lead to clogs.
- When it is time to wean or stop pumping, try to do it in slow increments. Trying to stop cold turkey will lead to clogs and could cause mastitis.
How to Clear a Clogged Duct
So you followed all the tips above and still managed to get a clogged duct, or you were in a hurry and unable to make sure your breasts were emptied completely and managed to get a clog as a result. No worries, it happens to the best of us. Life is crazy and most mamas are super busy so you are bound to skip a few pumping sessions here or there or be rushed through some. The bad thing is, it is possible to get a clogged duct even if you take all the precautions. So don’t stress about it if it happens to you, just use the following tips for trying to clear it!
- Do not stop breastfeeding or pumping. That is the best way to clear a clog. If possible add in an extra nursing or pumping session to help. Make sure the baby is latched properly, or the pump is suctioning well. Try not to miss a session.
- Take a warm shower or use warm compresses to help reduce the swelling and pain and relax the muscles.
- Massage the affected breast after your shower or warm compress application to help clear the duct. Massages during pumping or nursing sessions can also help empty the breast more efficiently.
How to Spot Mastitis
So you have tried all efforts to clear your clogged duct and have not succeeded, or you have noticed that the swelling and pain has increased, but how do you know you have Mastitis? Here are some signs that you may have developed mastitis.
- You have been trying to clear a clog for more than a couple of days with no luck
- The lump has gotten bigger
- The swelling and pain has gotten worse
- The area has become red and warm to touch
- You start to develop red streaks on the affected breast
- You develop a fever or chills
- Your energy level suddenly decreases without explanation
If you notice any or all of the symptoms above it is time to call your doctor or lactation consultant to be evaluated!
Easing the Pain of Mastitis
Following the same tips for clearing a clogged duct will also help ease the pain of mastitis. You are still able to breastfeed or pump just the same, the milk you produce will not affect your baby. If you have cracked or sore nipples, you may want to consider using a nipple cream such as lanolin to help treat that. You can also try to boost your immunity by increasing your vitamin C intake. If you think you have mastitis, it is always best to call your doctor to discuss it. While it is possible to get rid of it without medications, sometimes it requires an antibiotic. Do not hesitate to contact your doctor as there is no need to suffer any longer than necessary and delaying care could make the problem worse.
Key Things to Remember
- Whenever possible try to avoid getting engorged
- Take precautions to prevent clogged ducts
- Know the signs of Mastitis
- Use relief measures such as continuing to breastfeed/pump, use heat, massage, and avoiding constriction to make things more tolerable
- Contact your doctor right away if you start to show signs of mastitis
I hope you find this information helpful!! Do not hesitate to leave your comments, questions, or concerns in the comments section! I will do my best to reply to you as soon as possible. Thanks for reading!