Once you get the hang of breastfeeding, it's easy to assume things will be smooth sailing — that is, until one day when your baby latches and it hurts like hell. It's not uncommon to experience pain while breastfeeding and its causes are varied, including everything from an overly eager baby who clamps down to a clogged milk duct. But in the case of the latter, what's the best way to find relief? Learning how to massage a clogged milk duct may be exactly what you need, and luckily, experts say it's pretty easy.
"Breastfeeding in positions where baby's chin is on top of the clog is a nice, passive way for a mom to massage the clog," Karen Meade, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery in Pennsylvania, tells Romper in an email interview. "A mother can also use her hand to massage the hardened area toward her nipple while baby is breastfeeding and/or while mom is pumping."
Kaylie Groenhout, a birth and postpartum doula and the owner of Doulas of Northern Virginia, tells Romper the best thing a mother can do is rest, ensure she receives good hydration and nutrition, use heat and massage, and empty the breast often and as completely as possible. Groenhout says that in order to apply heat, consider taking a warm shower beforehand or even using a disposable diaper that has been filled with hot water and then lightly wrung out and tucked in the bra around the affected breast. Another option would be to fill a sink or basin with hot water, then lower the breast into the water, and keep it submerged.
According to Kelly Mom, symptoms of a plugged duct usually include "a hard lump or wedge-shaped area of engorgement in the vicinity of the plug that may feel tender, hot, swollen or look reddened." The website also noted that a plugged duct will typically feel more painful before a feeding and less tender after.
"A clogged milk duct should be treated immediately as trapped milk can lead to mastitis — painful breast inflammation often accompanied by infection," Groenhout says. "Inadequate and/or infrequent removal of milk from the breast are the most common reasons for a clogged milk duct and are often avoidable. If a mother has a clogged milk duct, she should focus heavily on releasing it."
Groenhout says once some amount of warmth has been applied to the breast, you can begin a massage, which may be done with a food-safe oil like coconut or olive oil. One way to massage is to use the fingertips on both hands to encircle the breast and make light circles, moving in a clockwise or counterclockwise rotation in small circles around the entire breast. "Another way is to knead around the breasts using the knuckles, making sure to stimulate all of the areas of the breast, including the area closest to the chest wall and the underside of the breast," she says. "The mother may use her thumb to apply pressure behind the duct and massage, gently pushing towards the nipple." Groenhout says the massage should focus on the location of the clogged duct and move down towards the nipple, encouraging let down and milk flow. "Many mothers also find that dangling the breast during a massage allows for the assistance for gravity," she says.
Of course, if the problem persists and/or if you begin to notice signs of mastitis — including pain, redness, and an infection that results in a fever — then it's time to pay a visit to your healthcare provider. Treatment for mastitis usually includes an antibiotic that's compatible with breastfeeding, according to Baby Center. And then you'll be back to breastfeeding pain-free which is a win-win for you and your little one.
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