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!
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?