As a breastfeeding mama, having searing pains radiating throughout your breast is every mama’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately it is quite common. This type of pain is often caused by a breast inflammation from a plugged duct or milk bleb. Luckily with proper diagnosis, there are some easy and natural home remedies you can try to quickly treat the issue and relieve the pain.
When my daughter was five months old, I was working full time and exclusively breastfeeding and pumping. I began to have searing pains in my left breast and thought I had a plugged duct. I tried treating it with a variety of home remedies but nothing was making it go away. I finally called our local La Leche League hotline in tears. With the help of a local La Leche League leader I figured out what I had was actually a milk bleb. Once I knew what it really was, I was able to treat it correctly and the inflammation finally cleared up in a few days.
What are Plugged Ducts and Milk Blebs?
The two most common breast inflammations in breastfeeding mamas are plugged ducts and milk blebs, also called milk blisters. Despite having similar symptoms, there are a few variations in how to treat them.
Most mamas have heard of a plugged duct and are familiar with it since it is so common. It is characterized by a tender, painful lump in the breast. The lump can be as small as a dime or as big as your hand. Plugged ducts are caused by the breast milk not flowing freely in the duct. Often this occurs when there are long periods of time between nursing or there is pressure on the breast. I remember in the first few weeks postpartum getting plugged ducts when my breasts were engorged with milk and I was wearing a snug fitting bra or even just lying down in bed for a while with pressure on my breast.
A milk bleb or milk blister is not as well known but is still quite common. It causes similar radiating pain in the breast but there will also be a small white dot on the nipple. It is caused by milk getting clogged and drying in the nipple. It can also be caused by a tiny piece of skin that grows over the nipple pore which prevents milk from flowing.
Natural Home Remedies for Plugged Ducts & Milk Blebs
Painful breast inflammations can be treated with a variety of natural, home remedies. One of the easiest things to do is massage the breast and apply warm compresses. I found that taking a nice warm shower and massaging my breast really helped to push through a clog in my plugged duct.
Although it is painful, it is very important to continue to breastfeed or pump as often as possible. Try to empty your milk supply to help push as much milk as you can through the clogged area.
Another important thing to do is try to rest. Getting rest with a baby is already virtually impossible but when your body is not healthy it is especially important. If you cannot actually go lie down to sleep, at least sit and relax to let your body rest instead of trying to get things done around the house.
Here are a few other remedies you can try:
- Breastfeed your baby with her chin pointing toward the clog.
- With your baby lying on the floor or bed, lean over top to nurse so gravity can help with the milk flow.
- Try taking a Lecithin supplement to help stop the milk from clogging. Lecithin can be found in most natural food stores.
- Before breastfeeding or pumping, hold a warm compress like a washcloth or heating pad on the inflamed area
Treatments Specific to Milk Blebs
Because milk blebs cannot always be cleared with the basic home remedies used to treat a standard plugged duct, there are a few things you can do specific to milk blebs.
- Place a vinegar soaked cotton ball on the clogged nipple pore for several hours. Because vinegar is acidic it helps to break down any hardened milk in the nipple pore.
- A last resort in treating a milk bleb is using a needle to remove the clog or flap of skin covering the pore. While it is recommended that a medical professional do this, there are many mamas including myself who did this at home. Using a sterilized needle I very carefully removed the skin flap covering my nipple pore as directed in the book "The Womany Art of Breastfeeding". I felt immediate relief after doing this.
- Once the pore is clear, place a cotton ball soaked in olive oil on the nipple to help keep the skin soft and prevent further clogging.
It is recommended that you consult your healthcare provider regarding breast inflammation if your symptoms do not improve in a few days of trying to treat the issue with home remedies. If you have a persistent inflammation that leads to infection it may ultimately require antibiotics to treat and clear the infection.
Annie Bernauer is a breastfeeding advocate who lives in western Montana with her husband, daughter and two lazy dogs. She writes a blog about natural, simple living at Montana Solar Creations.