“Crap.” I could tell I had a problem the minute I rolled over in bed. It felt like I had a ping pong ball sized breast implant made of fire on one side. I looked at the clock. Ten more minutes until the baby usually wakes up. I could just nurse him and clear the clog. Nope. It took me a full 24hrs to clear it using ALL my IBCLC tricks. I was scared of mastitis during a pandemic. It was the last thing I wanted to be dealing with. Mastitis and clogs are most common during the first few weeks postpartum and during weaning. Where did this one come from? Why did I get a clog 14 months into nursing when we’d made NO changes and I’m not prone to them at all? Why was it so hard to clear?
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This got me thinking about some recent posts in the Successful Breastfeeding Community about repeated clogs or multiple bouts of mastitis. Antibiotics can mean thrush, so Kelly, Kaitlyn, and I had been giving dietary plans to the clients we were working with privately to support healthy bellies with pre and probiotics in the nursing parent. We know that in a dyad, a baby’s gut is colonized by the mother. Disrupt the GI tract of the mother, you’re likely to get some drama from baby as well.
At Successful Breastfeeding, we’re BIG on evidence-based practice. You’re never going to hear us recommend an old wives tale, fancy tea, or the latest fad to boost supply or fix a breastfeeding problem. But this recent stubborn clog (and hearing about all the other stubborn clogs other people were dealing with) really had me scratching my head. What was different? Well for one, we’re in a pandemic. We’re in a constant state of Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Our brains are overloaded with stress and anxiety and you’d better believe our babies can pick up on that as well. I was also hearing about babies suddenly wanting to nurse around the clock because their moms were home. These babies didn’t do this on the weekends their moms were home from work. Why now? I can’t sit down and have a conversation with these Stage 5 Clinger babies, but my guess is they sense the anxiety and uncertainty and disruption in the day to day routine they’re used to and they’re nursing like their lives depend on it in response. Babies get stressed, they nurse. It’s so much more than food for them. So if babies have this amazing built-in stress relief system, what are their mothers doing to relieve stress?
Everyone likes to preach the gospel of self-care to stressed-out moms, but it’s really not helpful when you’re in such a constant and heightened state of panic and anxiety in a time like now to hear that you should be exercising, drinking enough water, and taking long baths. We know from multiple studies that a prolonged stress response leads to inflammation in the body. The hormones that are released to prepare for Fight or Flight can cause chronic inflammation if we stay in that state for too long, and it messes with our cortisol levels and ability to control inflammation. This heightened state of stress can even lead to changes in our perception of pain. People with depression perceive higher levels of pain than people without. Knowing all this as established fact, it wasn’t a stretch for me to wonder - if moms everywhere were feeling as terrified and anxious as I was, we may have some serious inflammation going on in our bodies in response. What if this inflammation was messing with more than cortisol, pain, cytokines. What if lactating parents were also more prone to clogs and mastitis as a response? And if so, what can we even do about it, since “be less stressed” isn’t really an option?
First would be the “emergency” interventions. If you have mastitis, you need medical attention. Call your doctor, even after hours or on a weekend. This isn’t something you should try to treat at home, especially if you have a fever or chills. If you have a clogged duct, it’s time to pull out all the stops to get it to clear.
The conversation I really want to have is about another kind of prevention. What can we do to prevent this, especially if it IS caused by a heightened state of anxiety right now? A week at a luxury spa without kids isn’t exactly an option.
If nothing else, making some of these healthy changes will make you feel better. I’m going to be watching some of these changes myself to see if I can keep the clogs away!
I'm Kelly Maher Carvell, Successful Breastfeeding LLC's founder, and lactation expert. I've made it my personal mission to reach as many parents as possible (like you!) to prepare you for your Successful Breastfeeding Journey. Thank you for allowing me and my team to support you. Before you leave the blog grab one of my FREEBIES like my Prenatal Success Kit or the Pump More Milk for Your Stash Guide. You've got this and I'm here to help!
Kelly Maher, CLC, CLE
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