With all new research comes a change in information passed on to pumping moms! But to note, like I always do, “the best approach is the one that works for you“. In my opinion, this is common knowledge and it always baffles me that it seems like it’s new information, but let us take a look.
Irritation vs a clog: Swelling, redness, hot to the touch and pain. The tissue within the ducts is swollen and this makes it hard for your milk to flow. While some swelling can be caused by water retention between the layers of your ducts (engorgement), swelling is generally caused by some sort of irritation and there is an increase in blood flow as your body tries to heal itself. The irritation causes swelling of the duct pathways and they constrict; your milk has trouble passing through.
What was recommended in the past was using heat, either heat packs or water. This still can apply especially if your breasts are not too engorged/swollen. However, every situation is different because our breasts are all different so keeping that in mind, we all know that heat helps muscles relax. Research does show heat helps milk flow better, it can shorten the amount of time you pump and can help increase milk production. However, when dealing with inflammation caused by an irritation, heat doesn’t always help reduce swelling. Applying heat to an already swollen area only makes the area hotter and won’t relax the tissue.
- Cold compress is recommended for clogs and mastitis to bring down the swelling. You would only apply heat for comfort and applying cold compress helps bring down the swelling while also numbing the area. Cold constricts the blood vessels and helps decrease the circulation to the area. Cold helps reduce swelling.
This isn’t new information. In 400 BC, Hippocrates used cold to treat swelling and pain. You likely already apply ice packs to your kids elbows and knees as did your mother and grandmother if you got a sprained ankle.
What NOT to do if you have a blocked duct? Don’t try squeezing your breast or apply too much pressure by aggressively massaging. You don’t necessarily know if you have a clog, all you will be doing is irritating the breast more and causing more swelling which closes the duct pathways more. This can lead to mastitis. You will likely cause more damage to the duct by breaking blood vessels. The outcome will likely be blood in your milk.
Clog vs Irritation? A clog is one spot on the breast that has a lump, normally doesn’t have pain, is not red and is not hot to the touch. The lump would also be moving toward the nipple. This would seem to be a clog of milk backed up and is having trouble passing through the duct. Go ahead and rotate cold and heat to the area and apply gentle massage towards the nipple. Gentle meaning light stroking or as you are paying the piano lightly with just your finger tips. Heat and cold can help the duct open and then restrict and the massaging may help gently move the clog through the duct.
If you can imagin your duct is like your shampoo bottle and the clog is the last bit of shampoo you are trying to get out… you squeeze the bottle like you would apply cold, the product doesn’t come out, so you let go, give it a little shake like a massage and squeeze again and the product eventually starts to move towards your hand. The cold pack will constrict the duct, the gentle massage will help it move down and letting go of the bottle is like applying heat, it opens the ducts again and eventually, the clog or product should move.
What else do moms do to reduce swelling? They take an anti-inflammatory like Motrin, Advil, Ibuprofen, and Tylenol for pain. Most will also add in lecithin or choline to help the lymphatic system drain. You can aid in a Lymphatic Massage of the breast which helps decrease swelling.
Do your research. Check in with your health care provider if your symptoms get worse after 24 hours, such as feeling like you have the flu. You may need a little extra help which your provider can provide antibiotics.
Why did you get this irritation in the first place? First thing that comes to mind is not draining the breasts properly and the only way to ensure that happens when you are pumping is to have the right fitted flanges or inserts. Using the Nipple Queen Ruler will allow you to size yourself to the products you need to buy. The measurement you see on the ruler is the size to buy. No more guessing your size.