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11 Things to Do the Moment You Feel a Plugged Duct

Photograph by Twenty20

I survived mastitis this weekend. And, yes, "survived" is the correct term—because, wow, did it come on fast and furious.

I've been breastfeeding on and off for the last eight years between my four children, so I’ve weathered my fair share of plugged ducts and mastitis scares, but this bout was by far the worst. In half a day, the eraser-sized knot turned to a golf ball-sized one. Then, I spiked a fever and had chills. A fever meant infection and an infection meant this plugged duct had amped up to mastitis. I knew I had to act fast.

Thankfully, I attacked it as hard as it attacked me. All Friday night and all day Saturday, I followed a precise regimen meant to eliminate my plugged duct and curb the brewing infection. By the end of the weekend, I was out of the woods.

Hopefully, it'll work for you, too. The moment you feel a plugged duct, feel free to put some or all of these tips into action.

1. Put your baby to work

Nothing beats their sucking power! When you feel a plugged duct, nurse. And then nurse some more. Keep that breast empty.

This isn’t an almost-fall-asleep kind of massage. This is a down-to-business kind of massage.

2. Feel yourself up

Massage as often as you can (and all over) to keep milk flowing, but specifically behind the plugged duct to help milk flow. Massaging while nursing or while applying heat is helpful too. Do it until it hurts. This isn’t an almost-fall-asleep kind of massage. This is a down-to-business kind of massage.

You can even try sequestering yourself in the bathroom and take a hot shower or bath. Gently, but firmly pull and press from all angles to get the milk flowing. Ducts begin all the way back under your armpits, so start there and work toward the nipple.

3. Go hot

Warm, moist heat is recommended for relieving plugged ducts. I like to microwave a rice sack for constant warmth.

4. Go cold

Cold won’t necessarily help cure a plugged duct, but it can relieve pain and inflammation, so feel free to alternate with an ice pack as needed.

5. Nurse this way

Have you heard of dangle feeding? It looks silly, but helps so much! Thank you, gravity! To dangle feed, lay your baby on their back and get on all fours, hovering over them. Nurse this way as often as possible, so gravity can help draw the plugged duct out.

6. Nurse that way

Your baby’s strongest draw comes from their chin. So, when you have a plugged duct, choose a nursing position that will point their chin towards the plugged duct.

7. Make a cabbage bra

Cabbage can help soothe a blocked duct. Tuck a warm or chilled leaf (whatever feels better) inside your bra for 20 minutes, three times a day. But be aware of your supply, as cabbage can decrease it.

8. Drink water—drink an ocean of water

When it comes to all things breastfeeding, stay hydrated!

9. Mix up this cocktail

Vitamin C and echinacea can boost your immunity. Since plugged ducts can turn into an infection, you want to power up. I make a "shot" of Emergen-C and echinacea tincture with a little water and gulp it down three times a day.

10. Consider oils

I know not everyone is an oil mama, but there are some amazing essential oils when it comes to breastfeeding support. My favorite resource is Stephanie Fritz, from the Essential Midwife. She gets the combination of moms, babies and oils.

11. Pop this supplement

Lecithin, a natural substance that was first discovered in egg yolks, can help increase the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk and decrease its stickiness. I swear, this supplement has saved me so many times.

Note: I have no formal training when it comes to lactation. I’m just a mom who has spent years breastfeeding. So, take all my insight as simple chatter from one breastfeeding mom to another. Consult your doctor, midwife or a licensed lactation consultant when you have questions.

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