Breastfeeding Onwards: Working Through Plugged Ducts, Mastitis and Thrush

Even the healthiest of people get colds, rashes, aches and pains sometimes.  The same is true of healthy breastfeeding:  It’s an amazing gift for you and your baby, but sometimes there are a few technical blips in the road.  Luckily most breastfeeding health challenges can be resolved with a bit of effort and perseverance.  That includes some common breast conditions and infections, including plugged ducts, mastitis and thrush.

Plugged Ducts occur when pressure builds in a milk duct that has not fully drained.  This is very common and most women who breastfeed experience at least one plugged duct.  Usually it only occurs in one breast at a time and does not cause a fever or illness.  It does, however, cause inflammation and irritation around the plugged duct, which is the body’s way of naturally trying to correct the issue.

Mastitis is a breast infection that causes flu-like symptoms.  It’s often coupled with a lump in the breast, breasts that are warm to the touch and pinkish in color.  On occasion, a yellowish discharge may come from the infected breast.  Usually it only occurs in one breast at a time and may be triggered by family members with a cold or flu.  Unlike plugged ducts, mastitis may require medication to clear up.  Discuss options with your doctor as some antibiotics are unsafe to pass to babies through breast milk or may cause gassiness and dehydration.

Breastfeeding Onwards:  Working Through Plugged Ducts, Mastitis and ThrushWhat to do about plugged ducts and mastitis?

While the area may be sore, breastfeed on!  The best way to clear a plugged milk duct and mastitis is to breastfeed as often as every two hours to encourage milk to pass and unclog the duct.  Massage the area in a circular motion and apply warm compresses to encourage milk flow.  Be sure to wear a nursing bra that does not constrict your breasts, such as our crossover leisure sleep bra or any of our nursing bralette styles.  As you’re working through your plugged duct or mastitis, take it easy.  These conditions can occur when moms are not getting enough sleep and feel stressed, run-down or overloaded.

Thrush is a fungal or yeast infection that presents on the nipple and breasts.  Breast milk can cause an unhealthy balance of bacteria and result in this infection.  Women with thrush are often plagued with cracked or blistered nipples that are itchy and flakey, or feel deep, shooting pains in the breast.  Thrush may actually start in your baby’s mouth and be passed to you, or vice versa.  When a baby has thrush, you may notice white spots in his mouth, including on the tongue, cheeks and gums.  Babies may also be gassy or cranky and get a diaper rash that is resistant to normal diaper creams.  Thrush can be caused by antibiotics that you may be taking, and in general, some women are just more susceptible to yeast than others.

What to do about thrush?

If you think you or your baby has thrush, you’ll definitely want to see your physician and pediatrician.  Thrush can continue to volley back-and-forth between mom and baby so it should be addressed immediately.  Your doctor may prescribe a topical anti-fungal for both you and baby, and you can probably take an over-the-counter pain reliever as well.  You may want to add some friendly bacteria to your diet, like that found in yogurt.  Ask your doctor and pediatrician if it is safe to continue breastfeeding.  If it is too painful, pump until you can resume feedings more comfortably.

To prevent thrush from spreading, wear washable nursing pads and change them several times a day.  Also change your nursing bra daily, if not more often.  Wash everything that comes in contact with your breasts or your baby’s mouth.  Towels and clothes should be washed in very hot water and breast pump parts, pacifiers, toys and any bottle nipples you may use should be boiled in hot water daily.  Also, wash your hands and your baby’s hands often, especially if he’s a finger or thumb sucker.

Plugged ducts, mastitis and thrush are common challenges but should not dictate an end to breastfeeding.  Seek help if you are having trouble overcoming these issues.  Usually you can get back on track in less than week and you and your baby can be a happy breastfeeding team again.