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Dealing with Plugged Ducts During Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding may be the way nature intends for babies to be fed, but that doesn't mean the process comes naturally or is without its challenges. One challenge breastfeeding mothers sometimes face is plugged ducts. A plugged duct Ė or blocked milk duct Ė can be uncomfortable, but usually isnít harmful for mom or baby.

Generally, a plugged duct will feel like a hard or tender lump in the breast. The area over the plugged duct may look slightly red and feel somewhat tender or bruised. You may also find that you have a low fever of less than 101 degrees when dealing with a plugged duct.

Itís important to know the difference between a plugged duct and mastitis, which is an infection in the breast. Plugged ducts can usually be treated at home, but you may need a doctor's care for mastitis. If youíre experiencing severe pain, flu-like symptoms such as nausea, body aches, headache, fatigue, blood or pus in your breast milk, or a fever of 101 degrees or more, you should contact your doctor right away.

In addition, if your nipple looks infected, youíre experiencing problems in both breasts, there are red streaks on your breast, or self care for plugged ducts doesnít resolve the problem within 24 hours, call your doctor as well. You shouldnít stop nursing or pumping if you have a plugged duct or mastitis Ė in fact, continuing to empty your breasts of milk on a regular and frequent basis is an important part of treatment for both conditions.

If youíre experiencing a plugged duct, apply warm, wet compresses to your breast. Then using your fingers, massage the entire breast in small, circular motions, concentrating in the area where the plugged duct is located. Encourage your baby to nurse frequently, about every 2 hours. Offer the affected breast first and allow your baby to empty the breast as fully as possible. If your breast is too sore to offer it to your baby first, offer it as soon as your milk lets down. Position yourself and your baby so that the baby's nose is pointed toward the plugged duct, if you can.

Some women find that if they hand express milk while taking a hot bath or shower, their symptoms will be relieved more quickly. Aiming the shower nozzle at the plugged duct and massaging in a circular motion over the lump can also help the lump release. Some women experience discomfort when the plug dissolves, while some women describe it as a pinching sensation.

When the plugged duct opens, itís not unusual to have milk that looks thick or stringy, or to see something that looks like a grain of sand in your milk. This milk wonít hurt your baby and, in fact, if your baby is nursing at the time, you may never see anything unusual in your milk.

When the plugged duct is resolved, your breast will probably remain sore for up to a week afterwards. If the plugged duct recurs, then consider taking lecithin supplements as well as other measures to prevent plugged ducts.

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