Breastfeeding can be hard in itself (read: making sure you produce enough milk for your child), but things like clogged ducts and mastitis can make it even more challenging and at times, painful. Motherhood, and breastfeeding in particular comes with its little aches and pains, but also know when it’s time to see the doctor.
Clogged ducts are a routine part of breast feeding for many women. According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, clogged or blocked ducts occur when the ducts that carry milk from deep inside our breasts to our nipple openings become clogged. Milk builds up behind the duct, so our boobs become engorged and swollen. Draining the breast by feeding often usually eases clogged ducts. Your boob may feel sore before and during feeding, but will feel better afterwards.
Mastitis, on the other hand, is similar to getting clogged ducts, except more painful. It can also be caused by a clogged duct that hasn’t cleared, affecting the nearby breast tissue and causing it to become inflamed. It also usually becomes infected. The difference between mastitis and a clogged duct is that mastitis usually becomes red and swollen, with the lump much harder and angry-looking. It often gets accompanied by fever and chills, with the lump looking shiny streaky.
For clogged ducts, you can try unblocking it by feeding and pumping frequently. Experts also say that massaging the clogged area with a warm compress right before feeding can help clear the duct. Start by feeding on the affected boob, but make sure you pump or feed on the other side afterwards (to avoid a clog on that side). Try hand-expressing milk from your boob to make sure the milk empties completely. Check your baby’s latch, too. Drink lots of fluids and apply a cold compress after feeding to ease any swollenness. If you feel the same or worse after 12 to 24 hours, check with your doctor (OB-Gyne’s usually treat this in the Philippines). If you get clogged ducts often, consider going to a lactation consultant to check if your baby is latching properly.
Mastitis may be a little more complicated to treat. First, relax and rest especially if you’re feeling feverish and chilly. Try draining the affected boob, too, but only apply a warm compress right before a feeding session—a warm compress may aggravate the pain. Stick to a cold compress to relieve the pain the rest of the time. Avoid tight clothing (go bra-less!), and drink lots of fluids. If you think you have mastitis, see your doctor ASAP. You’ll probably need to take antibiotics. Be careful and don’t wait too long—in some cases, mastitis may an abscess in your boob. That would mean you’d need a surgical procedure to drain or clear away the abscess, depending on how big it has gotten (we don’t mean to scare you, but it does happen. Extreme cases have let to a mastectomy). Long story short—see a doctor ASAP!
Whether you have clogged ducts or mastitis, when in doubt, see a doctor. Mothers tend to be the last to get treatment when sick (we’re too busy taking care of everyone else), but take it from a mom who got a bad case of mastitis. I learned the hard way— putting it off for too long thinking it would go away led to an infection and a bad abscess. I needed a surgical procedure to get rid of the abscess and it took months to recover. At the end of the day, remember that you need to be healthy to be able to take care of everyone else.