Around the time when I started using my new flanges last month, I noticed that my right breast was suddenly not producing its usual amount. To give you some context, the way that pumping tends to work, and nursing in general, is that one breast will tend to produce more milk than the other. For the vast majority of lactating women, the right breast produces more milk than the left. Whether this is a chicken and an egg situation, I have no idea, but since the beginning, my baby has always preferred nursing on my right side. And whenever I have pumped milk with my breast pump, my right breast has always produced approximately double what the left produces. That is really frustrating when you see the output and how different they are on both sides at the end of a pumping session. You wish, while looking at this, that they would both just produce the same amount and be more predictable like that. But, that’s just what you have to deal with. So, who knows if it is my baby who created this lack of evenness or if it’s just the way my breasts naturally are, but it’s still annoying regardless of the reason.
So you can imagine my annoyance, confusion, and horror when one day I was pumping with my new silicone flanges after seeing that my output had doubled for both breasts given my elastic nipple situation, and I saw that my right breast actually produced half of what my left breast produced. I looked at the output, put the bottles side-by-side, and just wrinkled my brow. Is this a fluke? I thought to myself. What the heck happened to my right breast? Why was it producing less than my left breast, which was supposed to be the slacker boob? I immediately went to take all of my plastic flanges of both side’s sizes and started doing some experimenting to see if the change in flange was what was freaking out my right breast. I spent the entire afternoon that day trying to troubleshoot. I did a bunch of Googling, to no avail. I had no idea what the hell was going on, and it was making me anxious because I was already an under supplier of breast milk, and to see that my dominant breast was not producing as much as my slacker breast terrified me. Was I drying up?? We are only just a month in! I need to produce more milk for my baby to drink!!
And then, like a knight in shining armor, Andrea, my Cleo lactation consultant, texted me. We were far outside the outreach window after our last meeting, when I was technically able to chat with her and ask for her advice, but nevertheless, she was a super human and part therapist to me, and she was asking me how I was doing. I told her the situation and explain to her what happened. I told her I was freaking out. I needed advice. With zero hesitation, she immediately texted me back and suggested that perhaps, I had a milk clog. She told me that I should go into a hot shower, and slowly and gently massage my breasts all over in circles to identify a lump. And once I found that lump, continue to increase the pressure while massaging and using a hot compress or the heat of the shower water to get the clog out, and to do it ASAP.
Oh shoot, I thought to myself. I have a milk clog already? A milk clog is basically a blockage in one of your milk ducts. When you are lactating, you have all of these milk ducts that are running through your breasts. The milk ducts all run with the same endpoint: your nipple. The goal is to get all of the milk out of your nipple. And at some point, depending on how thick and fatty your milk is, and how much you are pumping and or nursing, some of your milk may get clumped together and clogged up. The fat will accumulate in one of the ducts and just get stuck. This will cause a blockage of milk in your breasts, which would then result in your output decreasing. Women who are most susceptible to clogged milk ducts are, but not limited to: those who are not expressing, nursing, or pumping regularly enough, those who have a baby who is an inefficient eater on the boob (well, that sounds familiar), those who just happen to have fattier milk on average, and women who are attempting to wean off of breast-feeding altogether but do not do it slowly enough for their bodies to register this. If you do not address a clogged milk duct right away and quickly enough, this could result in a lot of pain, and in the absolute worst cases, mastitis, which is a condition that can give you a fever, chills, and have you go on a course of antibiotics that needs to be prescribed by your doctor. No one wants to experience that kind of hell while attempting to nourish their baby.
It was also confusing to think about having a milk clog when at that moment, I didn’t even feel anything. I wasn’t having pain, and in the beginning when Andrea suggested I massage around and look for a lump, I really did not feel one. But a few hours after this, I started feeling pain on the right side of my right breast closer towards my armpit. And when I started massaging in that area, I realized that there was a lump that was right there. And that was really freaky. That night, I told my night nurse that I had a clog, and she gave me this serious look. She said that I needed to spend time in a very hot shower and take a wide tooth comb and comb HARD down towards my nipple. Constantly put pressure on the lump and push on the lump towards the nipple over and over and over again until the clog came out. The grossest and messiest clogs actually come out as big thick white clots… and yes, that big, thick white clot is going to come out only one way, and that is through the tip of your nipple! I was terrified to think of what this was going to look and feel like, but alas, all women’s bodies are very different. For some women, it will come out as a big white clot, as though it’s a big fat white booger. Sometimes, that big white booger coming out of your nipple can also have blood in it. This is not for the faint of heart as you can tell. For other women, it will come out as milk gushing out of your breast like a fountain, fast and furious. And for others, they will not feel anything. It may just come out while pumping or while nursing your baby. And in that way, that would be the most ideal because you would not lose any of the milk.
So I spent the next couple of days trying to get the clog out. I used the wide tooth comb method, and I repeatedly used my Haakaa manual breast pump filled with Epsom salts and warm water and suctioned it onto my right breast. This is basically supposed to use heat, the healing power of Epsom salt, and suction to suck out the clog. I am not sure which method was actually the reason for my success in getting the clog out, but in the end, I was finally able to remove it. The lump was no longer there when I rubbed the right side of my breast, and my output had slowly but surely returned back to normal. I never experienced a big white booger flying out of my breast thankfully. I also never experienced milk spraying everywhere. So lucky me, no big mess. However, what was remaining was a big fat scab right where the clog was on the right side of my breast. And that eventually resulted in a very visible and ugly scar.
So I guess this is yet another postpartum scar, and one that I was not anticipating… at least not this early. I was anticipating getting a milk clog at some point during my breast-feeding journey, as most of my mom friends had warned me about this. I thought that I was preparing in advance by purchasing a bottle of sunflower lechithin pills and putting it in my cupboard. I even took one pill a day for the first couple of weeks as my milk came in to sort of smooth out the fattiness of the milk in case a clog were to appear that early. I increased my dosage during the period when I had that clog. Who knows if this actually helped. But I would like to think that since I spent money on these pills that they did help.