If you’re going to breastfeed your baby, you might want to read about clogged milk ducts and mastitis, to be prepared when you suddenly experience engorgement or pain.
I was absolutely not aware and never heard of Mastitis before, until one day I was not able to breastfeed my son because we were busy packing up for our big move. I bottle fed him and got off my feeding schedule which lead to engorgement. Being a new mom to a 2 week old newborn baby, I thought it was normal to feel pain. It was not, and it did not get better. My sister-in-law was the one who mentioned it could be something called Mastitis, and she made sure I got all the rest I needed that day, to recover and not let it get worse, and also to get back on my feeding schedule.
The truth is, once you start breastfeeding, it takes a few weeks for you and your newborn to create and adjust to a schedule. Think of it as a nursing and milk production pattern that needs to be established, all based on what your baby demands per day. If you miss out on a nursing session, your body will still produce the amount of milk required which may lead to engorgement of the breast if you can’t get that milk out. If you can’t pump or hand express enough milk to relieve the breast, your breast will start to feel very tight and painful due to the fact that even more milk is being produced regardless of whether or not you’ve emptied your breast. This can lead to a clogged milk duct, and if not handled properly to Mastitis – an infection of the breast. There are many reasons why you get Mastitis – it could be a bad/wrong latch, a baby biting the nipple, inadequate milk removal (skipping a nursing session or overproduction), stress, fatigue, anemia or a weakened immunity.
How to recognize Mastitis:
Usually it starts out as a clogged milk duct that is visible on your nipple (nipple blister or bleb) and often appears like a little white dot. It’s definitely painful when your baby tries to nurse or when your nipple rubs against clothing. If the clog does not clear itself, it leads to a milk backup inside your breast. This can cause an inflammation of the milk ducts or even the mammary glands. Your breast may feel harder and you may even feel a lump (and this is probably where the milk back up is). Your breast may be very hot and red, and you’ll most likely feel pain, comparable to muscle soreness, stinging burn, sharp pain when you press that area. In advanced cases, you will feel tired, jittery and may even present a fever. In that case you should immediately call your doctor to receive antibiotics to treat the infection.
How to avoid Mastitis by treating the clogged milk ducts/ nipple blister (or bleb):
The moment you notice pain on your nipple, you probably have a clogged duct, possibly caused by a nipple blister (or bleb). In this case, you’ll want to try to clear the clog on the nipple as soon as possible.
- Soak your entire breast in hot, but not burning hot, salt water. Sea salt or epsom salt are best. Soak for up to 10 minutes to soften the tissue. Sometimes the clog will clear itself through the soak.
- Start nursing your baby on the affected breast first. The baby’s suck will be very strong and may clear the clog for you. Other options are to lay the baby on the floor and kneel over the baby and drop your breast onto the mouth. Gravity usually helps clear the clog. Nurse frequently to make sure you really cleared the clog.
- Last resort would be to sterilize a needle (use a lighter and let cool down) and pop the bleb (a little white dot on the nipple). It sounds extremely scary, but isn’t that bad.
Once the clog clears, you should immediately try to empty that breast while massaging it, and if there is a lump, keep massaging that area to get the backed up milk flowing out.
When you already progressed to early stage of Mastitis:
Home Remedies before calling the Doc
- Hot and Cold compresses: You can get these great gel packs from Lansinoh which you can use hot or cold. Hot compresses help open up the pores and widen the milk ducts to release the back up, while cold compresses help numb the pain. It’s definitely recommended to do a hot compress before nursing.
- Cabbage leaves: Apparently these are a remedy to cure breast infection. The sulfur compounds in cabbage are said to help deal with the infection and swelling. I’m not sure if they really cure the infection, but the cold cabbage leaves do fit nicely around the entire breast (and in the bra!) and help a lot with the pain and swelling.
- Massage the affected breast: I personally would take a hot shower and just let the water massage my breast for me. Another great tip is to use the backside of your electronic toothbrush head. The vibrations help massage the lump.
- Drink a lot of water. Staying hydrated will help your body stay regulated and cool.
- Take Soy or Sunflower Lecithin to help thin out the milk. There are many benefits of taking Lecithin supplements, but the one we’re focussed on is that it helps thin out the milk, so it can pass through.
- Empty the breast frequently. This is important to help relieve the breast. Hand express, pump or nurse frequently, starting with the affected breast. You need to get that milk out.
- Rest and sleep! This is so very important. While the newborn/baby needs your care, you need to care for yourself too. A happy and healthy mama is a better caretaker. Try to sleep and rest as much as you can, so your body can recover and strengthen its immunity. Take some additional vitamin C and drink enough water!
- Sage tea. You may choose to drink some sage tea, which I don’t recommend, as sage is said to help the breast slow down or stop production. This is often used to wean from breastfeeding. However, if you are overproducing and want to slow it down, this may be an option.
If nothing works and you must call the doctor for antibiotics, I highly recommend that you add a probiotic supplement to help balance out your bacteria flora. Once imbalanced, there is a possibility that you may get a yeast infection, or your baby could develop a Thrush (yeast infection visible on the tongue and presents itself as a diaper rash).
Unfortunately, once you’ve had a clogged duct, you’re more prone to get it again. Self care and proper nutrition will help avoid it and keeping a regular nursing/pumping schedule.