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Pump Up the Jam

Let’s talk about boobs some more, why don’t we? First, I’ll talk about fun stuff, and then leave the nitty-gritty for the end of the post, in case you’re here for straight up data points.

I went back to work after a 12-week maternity leave, and thankfully, I work for a very, very progressive department that is supportive of me pumping at work. I didn’t really tell people about the problems I had with breastfeeding at the beginning, but my boss understood how important it was to me to keep my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter going. My employer even makes a point of having a brazillion lactation rooms spread all over campus, and the building in which I work has one right downstairs in the basement, which features a comfy chair and a hospital-grade pump. SCORE.

We already had bottles worked out, since we’d been having to supplement with formula and I’d been pumping during my maternity leave to feed her every day. Originally, I’d bought a bunch of BPA-free plastic bottles to use, until I read something about how they were substituting BPA with BPS, which is mostly unstudied and may be even more dangerous than BPA. YIKES. So, I promptly ordered some glass bottles from Lifefactory, which you can see in action below. They were a little expensive, but the glass gives me peace of mind, and the silicone sleeves that come with them are great for non-slippiness and for cushioning the fall in case we drop them. Plus, they’re cute, amirite?

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This is what happens, Larry!

This is what happens, Larry! This is what happens when you forget a part to your breast pump at home!This is what happens when you’re just starting back at work and haven’t gotten into a groove yet, and accidentally forget your breast pump flange at home so that you can’t drain your boobs!

Thankfully, Kevin was able to bring it to me during his lunch hour, but in the meantime, my boobs were leaking like whoa. In fact, they leaked once, started drying, and then I had a conversation with a coworker about Clare and they started leaking again! Sigh. I didn’t get to pump until 2pm that day, and it was torturous engorgement until then.

And what happens when mamas get engorged and can’t express milk for prolonged periods of time? PLUGGED MILK DUCTS. Which I developed a couple of days later, dammit. This happened on Wednesday, and I awoke Friday morning with a hard lump in my right breast, the one I affectionately call my “geyser boob” because it produces more milk (probably because C and I both prefer it, as its nipple is more prominent and easier for her to latch onto). Cue obsessive research by my on how to resolve plugged ducts, since I really, really didn’t want to come down with a case of mastitis, which is basically an infection that can be caused by clogged ducts. As reported to me by Claudia, a lactation consultant at the local Catholic hospital, flu symptoms in lactating mothers should be treated as mastitis unless other evidence to the contrary is present, since that’s usually what it ends up being.

Output when I finally got to pump. Phew!

Output when I finally got to pump. Phew!

 

So, after googling and consulting Kellymom, I ended up doing the following things to help relieve the clog:

  • Drank tons of water. You might think this is counterintuitive, since it’ll cause your supply to increase and therefore lead to more milk backing up behind the plug. However, you want to make sure you’ve got an ample supply, because…
  • …You’re going to be nursing your baby as often as possible. The more you nurse, the more likely you’re going to be able to dislodge the plug through the baby’s suction. Thankfully, most of this bout of mine happened over a weekend, so I had the opportunity to let Clare free-feed as much as possible, and offered her the boob a ton. Because I wanted her to keep working at the plug, I always offered her the affected breast first, and then would switch back and forth as needed. She probably got frustrated always getting that breast, since because of the plug she couldn’t get as much milk from it as easily as she usually does.
  • If I’d been working on resolving this issue during the work-week, I would have kept to my pretty strict every-two-hours pumping schedule, and may have even stepped it up from there a little. I also would have stepped up the suction on my pump. I could have pumped after nursing while at home, too, but I was lazy and didn’t feel like messing with it over the weekend. If my plug had developed into mastitis, I definitely would have mixed the pump in with breastfeeding, though.
  • Ibuprofen! I took 600mg every six hours to decrease inflammation, which can help pass the plug. The duct being all backed-up with milk can cause swelling in the surrounding tissue, which can cause even MORE milk back-up, making the problem that much worse. By taking an anti-inflammatory, I was able to at least head that off so that the issue stayed contained in the affected duct itself.
  • Breast massage. The area was tender for sure, so this was probably the least fun part of the process. I would massage the breast starting at my chest wall (where the breast meets my chest) and move towards the nipple, working extra hard at the lump to try to break it up and move milk through. Because ducts form a sort of spider web through the tissue of your breast, it’s important that you sort of work over the entire region of the plug, rather than just moving in a straight line from your chest to the nipple. I would do this massage during and between feedings.
  • Hot hot hot showers. I would do more breast massage in the shower while I let the hot water spray the area of the plug, and then bend over, allowing my breast to dangle and massage it in that position, letting gravity do some of the work.

There are other things you can do, like dangle-feeding (basically, lying your baby on a bed or couch and then dangling your breast in their face, to allow gravity to do extra work), latching your baby so that their nose or chin points towards the plug (doing this with dangle feeding if it’s in a weird spot for this), using a large-toothed comb to massage your breast in the shower to give you some mechanical assistance in working out the plug, and using some sort of vibrating massager on the spot to help break up the plugged area. Thankfully, what I did worked and I didn’t have to experiment with anything else.

What about you, have you had to deal with this before?

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Boob Juice

I’ll have to admit, of all the things about having a kid I thought would be difficult, I never imagined that breastfeeding would be one of my biggest challenges.

Before I gave birth (hell, before I ever became pregnant!), I had made the decision to try to breastfeed. Okay, let me be real here: I was judgmental. I couldn’t understand why someone would choose NOT to breastfeed, and was probably more than a little rudely outspoken on the subject. The idea of feeding my child in any other way never even crossed my mind, let alone the prospect that I might have any difficulties with it. In the months leading up to Clare’s birth, I watched as my friend and baby-guru Alicia’s breastfeeding relationship with her daughter flourished, and I WANTED IN ON THAT. I was excited to flex my boob power.

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Then I gave birth, and figured out that an anatomical quirk of mine can make breastfeeding really fucking hard, unless you’ve got proper support and guidance. I was able to put her to breast almost right away when she was born, but she had problems latching right away, and so my L&D nurse was quick to offer me a nipple shield. This was a surprise to me, but it seemed to work a little better, so I didn’t think much of it. During our two-day stay in the hospital, I got the same spiel from staff about making sure to pump after every feeding to make sure my milk supply was stimulated, and trying to get rid of the shield within a few weeks of going home. Even the lactation consultant was pretty nonchalant about the shield, repeating the same thing about pumping and getting rid of it.

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