As a nursing mamma, you know that it’s not all sunshine and roses when it comes to feeding your baby. Yes, breastfeeding is an incredible bonding experience. You get that great oxytocin boost when snuggling your little one. And yes, you may be overwhelmed with intense feelings of love and contentment when nursing (after the first couple of months). However, as most nursing mammas know – there can be hiccups along the way. From those first agonizing weeks of getting the correct latch, to cracked nipples and oversupply – there are a lot of speed bumps on the breastfeeding route. One of the most dreaded and painful issues are plugged ducts or mastitis. Since they both present the same way at first, it can be hard to tell the difference. However, they may need to be treated differently. Particularly if you need an antibiotic. Here’s a quick guide on how to tell what you’ve got going on, and more importantly, how to get rid of it ASAP.
What it is:
A plugged duct occurs when a milk duct is blocked. It can happen if you’re not fully emptying the breast and clearing the milk, or if you’ve skipped a feeding. Plugged ducts can show up in a variety of ways, but the most common are:
– Lumps or bumps that you can feel in the breast tissue and are usually round
– Hot or red portions of the breast
– A knot or bump in the breast that may disappear for a little while after nursing
With a plugged duct you typically don’t have many other symptoms, but a low-grade fever is possible. It may hurt to nurse or during letdown, and your breast may be sore for up to a week after you’ve resolved the plugged duct.
What it is:
Mastitis is an inflammation in the breast that is most likely caused due to blocked milk flow. Another possible cause is an infection, which is why Mastitis is most common in the first few weeks of baby’s life. Cracked and bleeding nipples and exposure to germs in the hospital offer unique opportunities for infection.
The symptoms are very similar to a plugged duct, but the redness may radiate out from the affected area. The pain with mastitis is usually more intense, and a higher fever is common. Flu-like symptoms and chills are also part of the deal.
What to do:
Although it may be painful, whatever you do, do NOT stop nursing if you have either of these issues. You’ll only cause the problem to worsen and may even open yourself up to other issues like an abscess. There are a few things you can do to help unclog the duct and get back on track:
– Nurse frequently. I unclogged multiple ducts by nursing every hour without ever even doing anything else. Kelly Mom recommends nursing at least every two hours
– Warm compresses and massage. Using a warm compress and massaging the duct prior to nursing can help loosen the blockage. Combined with baby’s suction this is an effective way to break up the clog
– Massage while nursing, especially around the affected area
– Use a breast pump or hand express between feedings to ensure you’re fully emptying the breast
– Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief
If the pain is severe and lasts more than 24 hours, you may need an antibiotic to treat mastitis
How to prevent a plugged duct from turning into Mastitis
You never want to ignore a plugged duct as it can quickly turn into mastitis. Immediately starting breast massage, frequent nursing, and warm compresses will not only break up the duct but also prevent it from worsening. The best thing you can do for yourself is to catch this one early. Not only will you avoid a significant amount of pain and discomfort, but you’ll also avoid exposing your baby to antibiotics at such a young age.
Now that you know what to look for hopefully you can tell the difference between a plugged duct or full-blown mastitis. Treating early is the best way to ensure that these speed bumps don’t totally stall you on the breastfeeding path. Although painful and annoying, you can overcome both of these issues and continue a successful breastfeeding relationship. For more breastfeeding information visit kellymom.com – it’s hands down the best breastfeeding site I’ve found!
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If you liked this post, you might also like my breastfeeding series. Check out the first installment, the top 12 things you need to survive the first year nursing!
Hang in there, mamma! You’ll get through this and will be back to nursing comfortably in no time.
P.S. Are you going back to work soon? Do you want to learn more about how to breastfeed like a boss and still crush it when you go back to work?
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