Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Nikki Salt, Middleport, Staffordshire, UK
Photo: Anderson Lane Photography
My blocked duct day…
Suzie was five-and-a-half months old. I was beginning to feel like a bit of a pro at breastfeeding, holding my own amongst the mothers at La Leche League meetings during discussions about how to weather your baby’s growth spurts. I’d even proudly shared how I manage to throw together dinner for four with a baby asleep on my back. And then suddenly, one day, I was back at square one, like the brand new mother with engorged breasts who can’t stop crying.
One morning I woke up with a banging headache. My breast felt tender and hot, and as I dressed, I saw a red patch, which when I touched had a sore lump beneath it. I had to hurry breakfast and get my older daughter to school before I could sit down and examine it properly. As well as the inflammation and swelling, I was beginning to feel nauseous, all hot and cold and shivery as though I was coming down with the flu. Feeling decidedly sorry for myself, I took to my bed and tried to nurse Suzie in the hope that her suckling might ease the swollen hardness.
She adamantly refused to cooperate and wanted the other breast, as though this sore one wouldn’t work properly, not the way it usually did. After an hour or two of worrying and grizzling (both of us!), failing to feel any better, in fact my symptoms were getting worse, I phoned my local LLL Leader, who asked me a few questions. She said it was likely that my body was reacting to a build up of milk that hadn’t been removed from my breast because of a blocked duct.
She said this could happen if my baby hadn’t been emptying the breast well or if I had a cracked nipple that might have let in bacteria, increasing the risk of an infection. If there was no infection, she said, the symptoms would likely clear up within 24 hours of careful treatment. If they didn’t, then I was to call the doctor, as I’d likely require antibiotics to treat the mastitis.
On her recommendation, “Empty breast, lots of rest” and to try to make my milk flow, I took a warm shower and gently massaged my breast in a circular motion. I took an anti-inflammatory painkiller (many of which are compatible with breastfeeding—check with your pharmacy if you aren’t sure about their safety). Then I took my baby back to bed with me.
To encourage her to nurse on my sore breast, I gently hand expressed a few drops of my milk and made sure she latched on well. My Leader had told me I might need to vary our usual breastfeeding positions to get Suzie to drain the milk, with her chin pointing toward the blocked area. This meant some ungainly gymnastics on my part! I’m glad this was behind closed doors and that no one was watching. If I hadn’t felt so lousy, it would have been quite funny: I lay Suzie on the bed, and knelt over her with my breast dangling free and my bottom in the air. It wasn’t comfortable but she did manage to soften my breast by feeding this way, at least after a few hours of repeating this absurd position frequently, as well as in some other less adventurous nursing positions!
I interspersed nursing sessions with holding cold ice packs of frozen peas wrapped in a cloth against the sore spot, a few half-hour naps, warm wet washcloths, and frequent drinks of water. When we woke up the following day, the swelling and redness had gone and I felt quite well.
At the next LLL meeting, I shared my experience and heard other mothers’ stories of blocked ducts and mastitis and how I might prevent a recurrence of these symptoms.
I learned that it’s a good idea to avoid long stretches between feeds. Life can get too busy!
Easily distracted babies can be encouraged to feed well, perhaps by lying down together in a darkened room or just by giving a bit more focused attention to your baby while you are breastfeeding, so he doesn’t pop off too soon.
Anything that puts pressure on the breast, such as a bra that is too tight or a bag strap, car seat belt or baby carrier, or even lying on your front, for instance in a bed that is too soft, all these pressures can cause a blockage.
Changes in routine and attendant stresses can make you more susceptible to suffering from a blocked duct or breast infection and, wait for it, this is my favorite—house work! Too much vigorous scrubbing floors or vacuuming is not a good idea for breastfeeding mothers. So when you experience any of the symptoms that I had, including:
- red/pink patch on breast,
- sore lump or swelling in breast
- feeling achy and run down
- hot and shivery without high temperature,
then down tools at once, try to lie down, and nurse your baby.
Read more about mastitis and blocked ducts and their treatment here: