For reasons that are unclear, I am very susceptible to plugged ducts and (probably subsequently) mastitis. When B was a few weeks old, I got my first round of mastitis. A week later and halfway through a course of antibiotics for it, I came down with it again. The second round came on very fast and was so painful. By the time I got to the doctor I was crying whenever they touched me, shaking with chills, and about 75% of my left breast was a bright, fiery red. I couldn’t lift my left arm without pain.
They admitted me to start IV antibiotics and painkillers and to make sure I didn’t have an abscess (which would have required surgery to drain).
The following months of B’s life (I think until he was about seven months old, but I don’t remember exactly) were filled with milder mastitis, too many clogs to count, and a few blebs. Yuck!
So I thought I would share what has worked for me to avoid and/or treat these things! (Keep in mind I am not a lactation specialist/consultant or any other kind of expert, except on my own experiences. Most of this was found with Ann Marie’s guidance, but this is from my own experience.)
To clear up clogs:
- heat before nursing
- nurse on the clogged side first (so the baby’s more hungry/vigorous sucking might dislodge the clog)
- nurse often
- nurse with baby’s chin pointing in the direction of the clog
- dangle nurse so gravity can help (this can also make the chin-pointing easier) – get on all fours over your baby and dangle your breast. No, it’s not the most dignified way to nurse!
- massage the breast – using your fingertips, put firm pressure outside of the clog, then continue that pressure inward to the nipple.
- for really stubborn clogs, I have used a castor oil pack. Take a damp wash cloth folded to fit over the affected area, pour a little castor oil over it, and place it on your breast. Cover that with a piece of plastic wrap or a plastic bag (to protect your heating pad) and place a heating pad on low over it for 20 minutes. Wipe clean. Nurse or pump while massaging.
To prevent clogs
- Try to determine why you are getting clogs – ill-fitting bra? Sleeping on your stomach/breasts? Nursing or holding your baby in a way that puts pressure on your breast? Oversupply? Pumping? (I have never been able to figure out why I get clogs!)
- Lecithin (available in the vitamin section). Here is the protocol for that at Kellymom. This stuff has made a huge difference for me…when I remember to take it…
- Drink plenty of water
- Luckily, I have never had such a severe or quick case of mastitis as I had after B was born. If I did, I would immediately take antibiotics without thinking twice. It was miserable.
- For mild cases with no fever, I have successfully gotten rid of it by eating raw garlic. I just chop up a few cloves and down them with water like pills. A few cloves whenever I think of it (three or four times a day) has helped quickly.
- I did also use an antibiotic ointment prescribed for the purpose when I had abrasions that were probably the culprit for introducing bacteria repeatedly.
- Drink plenty of water
- Rest as much as you can.
- Nurse a lot.
One note on mastitis: after that second bout I was hardly producing on that side, and I was pumping a thick, almost pasty substance. Ann Marie informed me it was congealed milk (gross, I know!), safe to feed my baby, and my supply would rebound after I got all the plugged-up stuff out. It did!
I have only had a few mild bouts of mastitis with A (and they were all pretty early, when he was nursing really poorly), though I continue to have periodic plugged ducts (probably because, with the two kids, I tend to skip the lecithin too often…and also because I have started sleeping on my stomach).
Lastly, Ann Marie is (of course!) a great resource for figuring out what is going on and how you might address it. I have gone in thinking I had one issue, but it was actually another. Kellymom is also a great resource. I had this page on recurring plugged ducts and mastitis bookmarked for quite awhile!
For more information about plugged ducts please visit the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Clinical Protocols at www.bfmed.org/resources/protocols.aspx.