They say you have to reach rock bottom before you can rise up. Well, my rock bottom took the form of a blocked duct. The early days of breastfeeding were difficult, as they often are for most new mums. I was exhausted, slightly delirious from lack of sleep, I still felt weak from labour and I was very uncomfortable.
Breastfeeding was a tough job. The hours were long, there was little on the job training, and I felt a lot of pressure to be employee of the month. I knew I wanted to breastfeed, so I persevered through the pain of incorrect latches and cluster feeds. Everywhere I went, I took my baby and my nipple cream. I don’t know how I would have survived those first few weeks without that cream. It seemed to heal any problem almost instantly. It was edible too, which is useful when you have a hungry newborn in the house.
During those early weeks, it seemed there was nothing the nipple cream couldn’t solve. But then, one day, I encountered a blocked duct. It is, without doubt, the most pain I have ever felt. My breast was hot and sore, it was hard and excruciating to touch. It was hard to sit comfortably, and painkillers didn’t seem to help. I had no idea what was causing me to feel so terrible. I rang my mum, and I told her the pain I was experiencing was worse than childbirth. She said it sounded like a blocked duct, and that she suffered with them a few times and agreed that the pain was excruciating.
My lowest ebb, the rock bottom I mentioned earlier, was when I tried (and failed) to hand express in the bath in an attempt to clear a blocked duct. I couldn’t manage to express, probably because I was exhausted and hormonal, and so my husband had to do it for me. It was a definite low point in our relationship, as he milked me like a cow while I cried for joy as milk started to squirt out of the previously blocked duct, and it’s not something we have discussed since.
Some women are prone to blocked ducts, but their exact cause remains unknown. I am sad to say that I am one of these women, but luckily for you that means I have some great tips for how to ease the discomfort.
Treatments For Blocked Milk Ducts
It’s important to deal with a blocked milk duct as soon as possible, because if it becomes infected, you’ll be dealing with mastitis too. How do you know if it’s progressed to mastitis? If you feel like you have achey flu-like symtoms, that is the trademark difference between blocked ducts and mastitis. In either case the treatments are the same, unless you continue to feel ill or get worse. Antibiotics are usually prescribed by doctors to clear an infection.
Blocked Milk Duct Treatment #1 – So, What Are You Wearing?
Blocked ducts are a result of breastmilk not flowing like it should. If you’re wearing an underwire bra (not recommended for breastfeeding mothers), a tight bra or tight upper clothing, this may be the cause of the blockage. Take off these items of clothing and follow the rest of the below suggestions to try and unblock the duct.
Blocked Milk Duct Treatment #2 – Rest!
Unlike mastitis, you won’t need antibiotics for a blocked duct – you should be able to manage it at home. Take painkillers (ibuprofen) for the pain if needed and try to get some rest. I know, that sounds like a joke if you’re reading this on your phone at 4am in the morning during a cluster feed with your newborn, but rest is important so cancel any non-urgent plans for the day and try to sleep when the baby sleeps. Feeding lying down is great too.
Blocked Milk Duct Treatment #3 – Keep Feeding From The Affected Side
The pain will probably make you avoid this like the plague, but feeding is a great way to clear a blocked duct. If you can, use a feeding position that forces baby’s chin onto the problem area, this should help to massage the affected duct and, hopefully, clear any blockage. You can also try massaging the affected area while baby is feeding, this should help to keep the milk flowing and unblock the duct. Another tip is to support the breast from underneath, which may help with better drainage.
Blocked Milk Duct Treatment #4 – Check Your Latch
Blocked ducts can also be caused by an incorrect latch – if the baby isn’t feeding properly, your breast wont be draining properly either. So it may be worth meeting with a lactation specialist (IBCLC is best) so they can assess your technique. They will be able to advise on the optimum feeding positions and other advice for avoiding future blockages.
Blocked Milk Duct Treatment #5 – Apply Heat
You can do this with a hot water bottle or heat pad, but be careful not to burn your skin. I always preferred to find sanctuary in the heat of a warm bath. Lying so that your breast is underwater can give instant relief from any discomfort. Pointing a shower head of warm running water at your nipple can also help to relieve a blocked duct. If you can, manually expressing in the bath or shower may help to clear the blockage.
Blocked Milk Duct Treatment #5 – Are You Following A Feeding Routine?
Block ducts and mastitis can occur if your baby isn’t drinking as much milk as your breasts produce. Feeding routines can cause havoc with your milk supply and result in supply related problems for your breasts – especially if combined with an incorrect latch.
Its important that babies get the calories they need from breastmilk, which all works in a supply and demand arrangement. We may not automatically know when our babies are having a growth spurt, but our babies and our breasts know what to do. Feed your baby whenever he asks for a feed, which is much better for him and your breasts.
Blocked Milk Duct Treatment #7 – A Note About Blisters / Blebs
Some blocked ducts cause a blister, or bleb, to appear on the nipple. Using the above methods should help to dislodge this. If not, contact your doctor. Some women choose to pop the blister themselves, but I wouldn’t advise this as you may, inadvertently, make things worse.
How Long Does It Take For A Blocked Duct To Clear?
Most blocked ducts will disappear within 48 hours. If yours hasn’t, please contact your doctor.