I admit.. I’ve been pretty lucky in regards to breastfeeding. I never struggled beyond the initial adjustment of figuring out proper latch, I’ve always had abundant supply, and never experienced the extreme pain, bleeding or cracking that some women have mentioned. After my daughter turned one, I assumed I was “home-free” and nursing would be smooth sailing from then until she weaned.
You know what they say about assuming, right?
Fifteen months into breastfeeding, and I wake up one morning with a plugged duct (does every bodily function relating to motherhood have to sound like we need plumbers??). For those of you unfamiliar, that would be when a milk duct fills with milk and does not empty completely, causing a hard, sometimes tender “lump” in the breast (not to be confused with general engorgement, when the entire breast is full of milk). This is only happened to me once before, and the remedy was pretty simple: nurse my daughter on that side to drain the milk.
Apparently, mornings are now for playtime, and she, unfortunately for me, did not have any desire to be confined in one spot to nurse. It’s a confusing roller coaster of emotions when your child starts down the path to self-weaning. On one hand, you are happy they aren’t attached at the nipple 24/7; on the other, it’s such an amazing, bonding experience you hate to relinquish. This morning in particular, I just wanted to ease the sore mass of fluid on my chest.
Next stop: the shower. Other than frequent nursing and/or pumping, they say the best remedies for a clogged or engorged breast is heat and massage. This, however, didn’t accomplish anything but making me lightheaded and dizzy. Whether it was the extreme heat, the loosening of my sinuses (I had been congested for a couple days and now it was all coming loose), or the anxiety of wondering “what if I have mastitis” (the only two times I’ve ever passed out were both due to panic attacks) I do not know. But after spending several minutes squatting and trying not to see spots, I nixed the shower idea and tried -unsuccessfully- to encourage my daughter to nurse several more times over the hour.
Up until that point, I had not tried pumping because I keep my pump at work for when my daughter is at day care. I did, however, try alternating hot washcloths and hand pumping over the kitchen sink, to excruciating levels and probably to the surprise of my neighbors (wait.. were my blinds closed? God, I hope so. I’m sure that’s not what anyone wants to see first thing in the morning.).
In all honesty, I was stumped and a little concerned. Fifteen months of breastfeeding and I’ve NEVER had anything like this happen. I could not for the life of me figure out what was going on and why it wouldn’t release. That’s when I brought in the reinforcements.
Reinforcements being: my lactation consultant friend, a breastfeeding support group on Facebook, and several breastfeeding mommies who I know have had issues similar to this before. Oh, and Google. Damn Google.
(All this while my husband ran to work to grab my pump. What a guy!)
After several conversations and Google searches, I finally stumbled onto a possible answer.
“Sounds like it could be a nipple bleb.”
I’m sorry.. a what?
Isn’t a bleb what Little Bunny Foo Foo gets turned into after he bops the fieldmice on the head too many times?
Several of my “reinforcements” pointed me in the direction of this nipple bleb, aka milk blister: when the clog starts right in the nipple, usually diagnosed by a small, white dot. Now I knew why all the massaging and pumping was only seeming to make it worse: the issue wasn’t in the duct, but rather that the milk was unable to be expressed at all. It was stuck in the shoot, so to speak!
Phase three of this nightmare commenced. I now knew WHAT I was dealing with, so the only thing left was to find a proper solution. As the hours passed, I was getting more tender and engorged (my little workers at the milk factor never got the memo to temporarily cease production while this little issue got resolved), to the point where any sort of pressure was excruciating. With the threat of mastitis looming overhead, I needed a quick fix.
I had heard several recommendations for a supplement called lecithin. I’ve honestly never heard of it before, and didn’t even bother reading up on if there were any negative side effects (that’s how bad I needed relief). Problem: I live in a little podunk town. While we can boast three establishments that sell medicines and vitamins, not a one of them carried lecithin; however, two of them did say they swore they USED to sell it, and at one establishment in particular, a very helpful employee pointed me in the direction of where it would most likely be (even though that was a shelf of weight loss products… apparently she took the “thin” in lecithin literally).
“Plan A: Supplement” was out.
There weren’t many other options for fixing a bleb other than what I had already been doing (pumping, nursing, heat, massage). The one option left I wasn’t sure I wanted to try, but I was getting desperate. Disclaimer: I am not suggesting anyone try this at home. Only do what you feel comfortable with.
“Plan B: Needle That Sucker.”
Problems with Plan B: No needles.
Bigger problems: No stores in my town carry needle and thread. (What the heck?!)
Desperate solution: Tweezer.
Yes. I brought out the tweezers. Don’t worry – I soaked them in rubbing alcohol to disinfect them (and my kitchen still smells like a hospital).
Apparently a bleb can act a lot like a pimple. I came to this realization when I discovered it the first time; focusing on the white dot, I noticed that when I squeezed my nipple, milk leaked out of many areas, yet the white dot stayed white with no leaking. That was my first indication that I did, in fact, have a bleb. The second was when I pimpled squeezed it (sidenote: OUCH), a little hard, white core came out, much like a blackhead would.
Now, I’m a pimple popping, hair tweezing maniac. So, I can’t lie and say there wasn’t a deep down part of me that didn’t relish digging into this bad boy. However, the majority of my sane brain realized that this could very easily turn bad. Best case – extreme pain. Worst case – extreme infection.
When counseling me on this bleb fiasco, a couple friends cautioned me that it would hurt like hell. Up until that point, the bleb itself hadn’t hurt so much as the actual tenderness from being so backed up with milk. It literally felt like there was a lump of hard rock making a home in my boob. I, mistakenly, thought I could get out of this with relative ease.
Nipple bleb + Tweezers = &$@!#$!*&@#
I did work cautious enough to squeeze OUT, not IN (that was a big point with using a needle: you don’t want to push anything in more, including an infection). I honestly cannot say I felt a moment of relief or a big giant “pop” when my bleb finally dislodged; rather, I knew I had been successful when clear fluid started pouring out everywhere.
Bonus: No blood or pus, I had avoided any sort of infection or mastitis, yay!
By that point in the afternoon, my daughter was passed out on the couch, so I popped in a movie (I still have never seen “Snatch” from beginning to end) and turned on my pump. An ounce and a half later, I had been blissfully drained and was back to soft, squishy normalcy.
“What causes a bleb?” you make be asking yourself.
I never did found a straight answer. It seems like anything that can cause a clog or engorgement, such as infrequent nursing or tight clothing, could be culprits, as well as perhaps dietary issues (my husband is always harping on me about drinking more water!) or nipple skin growing over the duct outlet. I personally am gravitating towards the “sleeping on my tummy” reason. In retrospect, that nipple was extremely tender and stingy that night, and so during my daughter’s several nighttime snacks, I kept taking her off that side to nurse the other. That should have been my first hint that something was up, but live and learn!
A website that was referred to me often and that was of help during those hours was KellyMom.com, particularly this one about the difference between plugged ducts and mastitis.
How about you? Have you ever experienced a bleb? I’d love to hear your stories!