After a woman has given birth, there are a variety of conditions that she may encounter. Here are 2 of the most common of them:
Engorgement can occur when your milk comes in. This is the uncomfortable swelling of the breasts that tends to happen between 2 to 4 days after delivery. The swelling may restrict the flow of milk by compressing the ducts. The breast can be very hard, making it difficult for the baby to attach and feed well.
Engorgement is very uncomfortable but can be assisted by ultrasound performed by a certified medical professional over the engorged breast. Demand feeding and using heat just before feeding to help the milk flow, and using cold between feeds to reduce swelling are helpful. Cabbage leaves are said to be comforting, especially if kept in the freezer and slipped into your maternity bra between feeds.
Blocked Ducts and Mastitis
Blocked ducts can occur whenever there is excessive compression of the ducts and restriction of milk flow. As the ducts are easily compressed, the compression does not need to be strong at all. The restricted milk can then ‘set’ and block the ducts. Any obstruction to normal breast drainage can be a factor in a blocked duct. This can include bruising or swelling, hurried feeds or poor positioning, poor attachment, nipple soreness, poor bra design and finger compression.
If blocked ducts are not cleared, you may develop mastitis. This is an infection of the breast tissue in which a hard lump can be felt. There can be tenderness, swelling and sometimes a red flare over the affected area of the breast. You may feel unwell or may have a fever. Cracked nipples may give an inlet for bacteria to enter the breast tissue, although mastitis often occurs with intact nipples. The bacteria are often the same normal bacteria found in the baby’s mouth.
Left untreated, mastitis may become a breast abscess. Strangely, we find blocked ducts often occur more with weather changes, Friday afternoons, public holidays, and when there is family coming to visit. So call your trusted physician, if you think you are having problems sooner rather than later.
It is almost always OK for the baby to continue feeding, and usually it is beneficial for the mother, by helping clear the blocked area. Ultrasound and effleurage or draining massage (done by a certified medical practitioner) may help to clear the ducts. If caught early enough, they may not only clear the ducts but also prevent infection.
However, if you begin to feel unwell, have fevers or the blockages are failing to improve, you should seek help from a qualified physician immediately. Antibiotics may be prescribed if there is any pus in the expressed milk. It is usually safe to continue feeding with the antibiotics under direction of your doctor. A blocked duct can become mastitis within hours. If you can’t clear a blockage yourself within 12 hours, seek medical help immediately.