Try as we may, plugged ducts and Mastitis seem like a rite of passage for every nursing mother at some point. These conditions are never welcome and far from fun. If you know the pain and discomfort of having a plugged duct, then you understand the importance of addressing the issue right away to prevent it from progressing into something worse. Those plugs can quickly turn into Mastitis, a breast infection, and have a dramatic effect on your milk supply.
Never experienced a plugged duct? Count yourself blessed. Experiencing plugged ducts or mastitis over and over again? Absolutely frustrating! So what do you need to know to help combat these lactation woes?
Plugged ducts and mastitis are often the result of not emptying your breasts completely or frequently enough. When milk is not removed from the breast, it flows back to the ducts and accumulates often leading to engorgement, when your breasts become overfull. Engorgement can lead to plugged ducts and ultimately mastitis.
Plugged ducts can also occur if there is consistent pressure on specific areas of your breast. Do you wear a bra with an underwire? Sleep in positions that put pressure on the breast? Carry and hold your baby in the same position each and every day? These are the types of pressure that can restrict the flow of milk in your breast and lead to a plug.
Plugged ducts differ from Mastitis. Mastitis is often the result of a bacterial infection. This infection can occur for many reasons:
Plugged ducts are typically described as a single, painful lump on the breast. They will rarely have additional symptoms such as swelling or fever.
Mastitis, on the other hand, is best described as a swollen area of the breast that is red, hot and tender to the touch. Mastitis is usually accompanied by Flu-like symptoms and fever (Lauwers & Swisher, 2016).
When you suspect that you are experiencing a plugged duct, it’s important to remove it quickly to prevent it from progressing into Mastitis.
You can work out a plug by trying some of the following options:
If you’ve tried to resolve the plug and nothing is working, please contact your physician for further guidance and treatment options.
Uh oh – the worst has happened, you have a fever and feel terrible! Is it the flu? No, your breast is inflamed, hot and tender to the touch – you probably have Mastitis. What do can you do to relieve discomfort?
If you’ve sought treatment in a timely manner, you should find relief from your symptoms and find that your supply, though it may have decreased some, can gradually bounce back following recovery.
Lauwers, J. and Swisher, A. (2016). Counseling the Nursing Mother: A Lactation Consultant’s Guide, Sixth Ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.