Breastfeeding and blocked ducts – how to cope

I started this blog with two ideas in mind. The first is to offer hope to parents of reflux babies – If this is you, I promise, there is light at the end of the tunnel 🙂

The second reason is a bit stranger. I needed somewhere to offload my randomly extensive knowledge of blocked ducts, so I could clear up the space in my head for other more important things!

Within the first seven months of breastfeeding, I managed to clock up about thirty of these bad boys. Every couple of days I would get a blocked duct, usually in my left boob. During these dark hours of desperation, I would inhale the internet, searching for a cure. Dozens of breastfeeding related tabs were permanently open on my phone – websites, forums and posts, anything that offered answers and ideas on how to get rid of them.

If I added up the time I lost to blocked ducts, it would account for well over an entire month of new Mama-hood wasted, sweating under hot, wet compresses and fiddling about with vibrators (sadly, not in the fun way you think!).

Like it or not, I had become a reluctant specialist on something that I had never even heard of before.

If you’re coming across this blog while suffering with your first blocked duct, or are just curious about them, please don’t get freaked out. Lots of Mamas only experience these once or twice, and some don’t even get them at all. If you are a long-suffering veteran, I completely feel your pain!

Here’s the lowdown on what you might be dealing with;

A blocked duct happens when one of the ducts carrying milk to the nipple gets squashed or compressed. Milk can’t flow through which means your baby can’t get any milk from this duct. Even though your baby can’t drink, it doesn’t stop the milk continually being produced. All this milk can’t get past the blockage, and so it backs up in the duct, causing pain and swelling.

You might start by feeling a small lump at the point of the blockage, but pretty soon this grows into a large solid wedge that moves back towards your chest. Sometimes it’s got red streaks and is hard and hot to the touch.

Blockages can happen because of physical pressure on the boobs, which cause ducts to be compressed. Or if the boobs aren’t being drained properly, excess milk can cause inflammation in the surrounding breast tissue, which can exert pressure on ducts too. This can happen if you are producing more milk than your baby is drinking.

Ignoring a blocked duct is the worst thing you can do. If it’s not cleared, the swelling and inflammation could lead to infection, which in turn could lead to the dreaded M word that most breastfeeding Mamas live in terror of….Mastitis.

Miraculously, through seven long months of blocked duct misery, I never caught mastitis once. I say miraculously because I have no idea how I managed to escape it. Even when I was at my very lowest ebb, my body was throbbing and I felt the dreaded flu-like symptoms, I somehow managed to clear the blockages just in the nick of time.

There were times when I truly believed the fear of mastitis was worse than actually getting it. Perhaps if I succumbed I could just retire to bed and pop some glorious pills to end the misery. The only hole in my fantasy was that if you get mastitis because of a blocked duct, the antibiotics will only heal the infection and you’ll still be responsible for clearing the actual blockage yourself. So, my take home advice on the matter is as follows: It’s never worth giving in to mastitis if you can help it, fight the good fight till the end!

Blocked ducts are really common in the first few weeks after birth when the boobs are regulating their milk supply. If you only get one or two and they pass quickly, there’s nothing to worry about. However, if like me, you are routinely troubled long after breastfeeding has been established, these posts might help you get the information you need to treat your blockages, and maybe even pinpoint the root of the problem.

The stuff I’ve put together is a culmination of the most useful advice I picked up on this journey, mainly what was relevant to me, and most importantly, what worked best in my experience.

I don’t claim to be an expert and I’m certainly no breastfeeding guru. But saying that, if blocked ducts were a trivia category, I’d be totally rocking it!

I know that time is precious when you have a little one, so I’ve broken down the information into separate posts, to make it easier to find what is relevant to your situation.

Where there are specific products or services that I found useful, I’ve added links. I’m writing this blog from Ireland so you might need to search for the equivalent in your local area.

Happy reading 🙂

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