In August we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, and while breastfeeding is amazing and beautiful, it can also be incredibly difficult and painful. Over the past seven years, I’ve travelled along my own breastfeeding journey, and after nursing three children, I can safely say I’ve learned a few things along the way.
One of those things I’ve learned is the agony of plugged ducts and how to survive them.
First, the scientific aspect of this issue: plugged ducts occur when one of your milk ducts becomes (literally) plugged. The area becomes painful and can swell or become hot. If you’d like to read more about this, you can read more at KellyMom.com (where you can also find lots of other great breastfeeding resources).
If you’ve ever had a plugged duct, currently have one, or are breastfeeding but have never had a plugged duct: read on for my go-to remedies!
Disclaimer: As always, this is not medical advice, simply the experience of another nursing mama. Please always consult with your doctor if you are concerned, in excessive pain or just want a medical opinion.
Heat, heat, and more heat
Heat is your best buddy when it comes to relieving a plugged duct. This is because it encourages the milk to flow.
Some women use a diaper and fill it up with very hot water, then lay the diaper directly onto the area that’s plugged. Other mamas use a wet washcloth.
I’ve had the best success with a hot shower—the hottest water I can stand. Let it run over the affected area for a few min, then proceed to the next step.
NOTE: I realize that as busy mamas, showers can be a scarce commodity. However, if you don’t take care of your plugged duct, it can easily become mastitis and then you will feel even worse and be prescribed an antibiotic. So, take it from me, you will want to do everything you can to squeeze that shower in. Give the kiddos screen time, bring the swing or bouncer into the bathroom—whatever you need to do!
Massage that sucker out!
Once you’ve let the hot water run over the plug, start to massage the area. You want to massage the plug toward the nipple.
Sometimes you will be able to feel it let up and move towards the nipple on your first try, but often it will take a few massage sessions. Try to massage as firmly as you can stand it.
If you have the time and it’s not too painful, you can just stand under the running water and massage until you feel relief. However, even if you only have a few minutes, the hot water and massage will help tremendously.
Vibration—the secret weapon!
It took me until kid 3 to learn this one, so this tip gets handed like candy to any mama with a plugged duct! Vibration has been my BEST weapon in defeating plugged ducts.
I first used an electric toothbrush, which was better than nothing, but my greatest success came with a scalp massager. It cost $12, and helped me get rid of my plugged ducts in one shower session as opposed to multiple shower sessions.
I have also used a back massager, but my favorite is still a scalp massager. Its silicon nubs make it gentler than the other two options.
Put baby to work
Once you’ve spent some time with heat and massaging, it’s time to put baby to work. Regardless of how you’re nursing (switching sides every time, or just every other time), have baby start on the side that’s affected.
Sometimes baby will nurse the plug out with the first session, but it might take a couple of attempts.
Make sure you don’t neglect the other breast, though. We don’t want to switch the problem to a different side! Either offer the other side to baby after working on the plugged side, or pump to avoid engorgement or more plugged ducts.
Water and rest
Breastfeeding tends to make mamas thirsty anyways, but it’s especially important to stay extra hydrated when battling a plugged duct. The water will help your body continue to flush things out.
In addition to lots of water, do your best to rest. Plugged ducts can quickly become mastitis if not taken care of and if mom is going too hard. Again, I know how hard it is for busy mamas to rest, but if you can get yourself (and/or your kiddos) set up on the couch with some snacks, water, the TV…whatever it takes to make some rest possible!
One final (very important) word: if you start to feel fluish, feverish or sick—beyond just having a sore boob—please give your doctor a call ASAP. Those are tell-tale symptoms of mastitis, and it can get nasty fast.
Good luck, mamas! May you never deal with a plugged duct—but if you do, I hope these tips help you!