As I’ve reported previously, more than 200,000 cases of blocked milk ducts occur in nursing mothers in the U.S. every year. In this column, I’d like to share my own personal experience as one of those mothers.
While it was challenging for many reasons, I’m deeply grateful for this experience because it ultimately led me to create PhysioFit’s innovative blocked milk duct program.
My first baby was born prematurely and was not able to breastfeed initially, so I had to exclusively pump. Once she was finally able to breastfeed, she had a very weak suck that was really just pacification rather than feeding.
As a new mom with nothing to compare to, I was not sure what I was supposed to feel as far as true emptying of the breast. Soon enough, I developed blocked milk ducts, and because I didn’t know what the appropriate treatment was, it quickly turned into painful mastitis.
At one point, I was running a fever regularly – on top of very little sleep and minimal help when my husband was at work. It felt like someone was cutting off my nipple every time my baby latched on to feed, and I had to hold my breath to endure the pain. I remember breaking down in tears due to the pain, frustration and fatigue. But despite the agony, I’m the type of person who perseveres for the things I believe in. I was determined to make breastfeeding work somehow for my baby.
Eventually, I connected with an amazing lactation consultant. She came to my house and massaged my breast in a very particular manner – an approach that was very different from the norm.
My ducts were so blocked that this process took her a full seven hours, but by the time she left, my fever was gone, and my ideas about blocked milk ducts were changed forever.
Fast forward two years later to 2003. By this time, I had opened my own physical therapy practice.
One day, we received a phone call from a new breastfeeding mom asking if we did ultrasound for blocked milk ducts. I explained that I had never heard of therapeutic ultrasound for that use before, but I was intrigued by the idea. After consulting with some literature from her physician, I agreed to try it with this patient – and it worked.
I soon began to develop a program to help women experiencing this common and frustrating problem. I furthered my clinical training, read all the literature I could find and reached out to lactation consultants, OB/GYNs and pediatricians to educate them about our program.
Over the next several years, we successfully performed ultrasound on hundreds of women with blocked milk ducts. Soon word got around that we were the only physical therapy clinic in the area providing this kind of service. Many of our patients drive more than two hours to reach us and find relief from their desperate and frustrating situations.
We continued to improve the screening, education and techniques used to make this program what it is today, something that is completely unique to our practice. Around 2009, I decided to enhance the program by including the massage techniques I learned from my own experience and created a full treatment session that focuses on helping women faced with blockages.
Today, I train all of our physical therapists in how to deliver this unique and comprehensive blocked milk duct treatment. Many of the PTs have used the techniques they’ve learned to help themselves breastfeed successfully.
The results we have seen among our patients who are breastfeeding and/or pumping give all of us an incredible feeling knowing we are making a difference in such an important moment in a woman’s life.
My own experience with blocked milk ducts served an important purpose: It inspired me to use my professional training to find a solution for so many women who, like me, were desperate to find something that could help.
If you or someone you know is interested in a complimentary screening for blocked milk ducts, contact our clinic.
Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness, 1000 Fremont Ave., Suite 108, Los Altos. For more information, call 887-6046 or visit physiofitpt.com.