There is so much nobody tells you about breastfeeding when you’re first pregnant.”It’s natural,” I thought, so that means it’s going to be easy. Far from it! Breastfeeding is as much taught as it is instinctual and requires lots of space to figure things out. One thing that was super hard for me – especially the second time around – was the more common but also unexpected issues of engorgement, plugged ducts and mastitis.
I had never developed any of these issues until after my 2nd child, which isn’t surprising since complications are more common with each subsequent child. I was getting ready to head in for my 6 week postpartum checkup when the night before I came down with an awful fever and chills. I didn’t have the telling red streaks that were all over google as the sure sign of mastitis, so I just thought I was developing the flu. The next day at my exam the midwife went over my symptoms and together we found an abscess in my breast that seemed to be infected. It was hard, hot, pink and painful to the touch. Along with these signs and my fever, I was diagnosed with a plugged duct and sent home with a natural protocol to try and clear up the issue before it got to a more serious point where I would need antibiotics.
I’m of the mind that unnecessary antibiotics are harmful and that treating symptoms of discomfort + infection naturally if possible is the healthier, more wholistic route. Now, after nursing 3 babies, I have had plugged ducts three times so far. We did decide to go the antibiotic route once because it was spreading into both breasts and just getting out of control. We did what we thought was best and I’m so glad we did! My point here is to encourage you to know your symptoms and know your body and empower you to make the best medical decisions for you and your baby. But I wanted to share a few tips I’ve learned on how to prevent + treat plugged ducts when they come up so that they don’t turn into a more serious condition.
+ Massage: Often! Breaking up the abscess is crucial for the removal of the milk and healing of the infection. Massage is probably the most important thing you can do to get rid of an abscess, which is tough when it is so painful. But its going to be your best bet. Before nursing, after nursing, while your driving or whenever you think of it, massage!
+ Warm/cold compresses: Soaking the infected breast or breasts in warm water makes things loosen up and should help start milk flow. Hot showers, hot baths and warm compresses also ease the pain. Adding essential oils/postpartum herb blends like geranium, calendula, tea tree, lavender and frankincense are healing as well. Start with warm compresses before you go to nurse each time for at least 10-15 minutes, then after you’re finished, a cold compress after nursing will help reduce inflammation. Another great herb that fights inflammation is turmeric. Taking in a pill form or adding fresh turmeric to teas or bone broth is another great way to fight inflammation.
+ Epsom salt: Mastitis, the more serious progression of plugged duct, is caused by a salt imbalance and there is a lot of evidence that increasing your salt intakes can prevent and aid in flushing the infection out of your system. Dilute in warm water and use with your compress. Also increasing your magnesium: think Himalayan salt, coconut water, watermelon, and other natural sources of electrolytes. However, magnesium is best absorbed through the skin. Ancient Minerals also makes a great magnesium spray that is great for topical use and you can find it on Amazon.
+ Nursing often and in different positions can help drain the milk effectively. Positioning the baby’s jaw towards the plugged duct can aid in massaging the duct while nursing which is a two-for-one. It’s important to drain the whole breast when trying to get over or prevent plugged ducts so if your baby doesn’t drink her fill, then pumping the rest out would be an option.
Breastfeeding is a lifestyle filled with many firsts. The first sweet moments of life are at the breast; baby smiles and lots of soul-piercing eye contact from this beautiful little human you birthed. Woman’s bodies are amazing! You are exactly what your baby needs!
Consider being an active part of a breastfeeding community with your own tips and tricks – and always reach out to moms with a gentle world of encouragement or small act of kindness. It’s not always as easy as it looks and you don’t know what everyone might be going through. We mamas are a wealth of knowledge and the more we collaborate the more we can champion one another.
So nurse on, mamas! Hope you enjoyed this little series!
This photoshoot was back in 2017 when we were a new family of four and it still gives me the feels! Pointe and Shoot Media focuses on lifestyle photography – playfully using daylight, shadows, the raw and the real (and not the overly edited – which we like!) to capture beautiful family moments. Enjoy these precious snaps and check out more of who they are, what they do and more of their work at http://www.pointeandshootmedia.com.