If you've ever had to deal with a clogged duct or mastitis, or have heard stories from someone who has, then you know they're not fun. The initial weeks after having a baby can be overwhelming while trying to navigate through new routines, breastfeeding, pumping, diaper changes and everything in between. And the last thing you want to have to deal with is a clogged duct or mastitis.
A clogged, or plugged, duct occurs when milk has become stuck in a milk duct of the breast and is no longer able to flow out. This can occur close to the nipple or farther back in the breast. If the clogged duct is not resolved it can lead to mastitis, an inflammatory response that can be infective or non-infective.
Potential cause(s) of a clogged duct:
- Suboptimal latch and insufficient milk drainage
- Hurried feedings and suboptimal milk drainage
Signs of a clogged duct:
- A swollen or engorged breast
- A hard lump in the breast
- A red area that is hot or tender to the touch
- Localized pain or tenderness
- A low fever may be present
How to treat a clogged duct:
- Apply moist heat to the area (warm washcloth, shower, or bath)
Gently massage the breast several times a day (before, during and between feedings when possible)
- Nurse or pump until your breast has been fully drained and repeat every 2-3 hours as baby shows hunger cues (Your breast will feel softer when it's fully drained. You shouldn't feel the heaviness of milk like you do before nursing or pumping)
- Rest as much as possible
- Ensure your baby is using an optimal latch, which you can read more about here.
*If the clogged duct does not improve within 24-48 hours it is recommended to be seen by your healthcare provider*
Signs of mastitis:
- Feeling unwell, flu-like symptoms
- Fever of 101.3 or higher
- Red streaks coming the lump or swollen area of the breast
*If you begin to have any of the symptoms you need to be seen by your healthcare provider*
Potential cause(s) of mastitis:
- Suboptimal, hurried feedings resulting in insufficient milk drainage
- Tight bra or underwire that puts pressure on the breast
- Nipple damage
- Anemia (if mastitis is recurrent)
How to treat mastitis:
- You will likely be prescribed an anti-inflammatory medication and an antibiotic if an infection is suspected. Make sure to take the full round of antibiotics.
- Focus on moist heat (warm shower, bath or washcloth) to help improve the clogged duct
- Rest as much as possible
- **Continue to nurse or pump and ensure adequate drainage of milk, unless instructed otherwise by your healthcare provider
- Symptoms should hopefully resolve in 5 days
Preventing clogged ducts and mastitis:
- Ensure your breast(s) feel empty after every nursing or pumping session every 2-3 hours
- See a lactation consultant if you have concerns about suboptimal latch or have any pain while nursing. You'll want to address any latch issues to prevent clogged ducts or mastitis in the future.
- Trial different nursing positions to help ensure all milk ducts are being emptied
- Avoid wearing tight fitting bras or tops that put added pressure on your breasts
- Try your best to ensure you're getting as much rest as possible as well as proper hydration and nutrition.
Photo by Sergiu Vălenaș on Unsplash
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