What is a blocked duct?
A plugged duct, is formed when some of the milk inside a duct dries up and stops the rest of the milk from flowing, it is mostly due to a mother not draining the breast properly. This usually happens in the early days of breastfeeding, when a mother is still engorged.
- A plugged duct happens progressively, and is usually only found on one breast.
- It is sometimes felt as a hard lump, that may be hot and/or tender.
- A blocked milk duct mostly feels worse before a feeding, while the breast is still full, and feels less sore after a breastfeeding session.
- Nursing on the side where the lump is, could be painful, especially during a let down.
- It is typically not associated with a fever. If you have a temperature of more than 38,5°C, you should contact your doctor. It could indicate a mastitis infection.
- Milk supply may decrease temporarily.
- You may see some thick, grainy milk.
- You may feel some bruising in the area, for about a week after the lump has disappeared.
- Nursing and pumping frequently to drain the breast (Pump at least every two hours). Breastfeeding on demand is best.
- If the breast is too painful to breastfeed you should use an electric breast pump.
- A warm, moist compress will increase the flow of milk, this can be done before you nurse or pump. You can also soak your breasts in warm water with some Epsom salts added. (One handful of Epsoms with every 2L of water) Remember to rinse your breasts afterwards, to remove the saltiness.
- Take a warm shower and hand express your milk, while massaging the swollen area from the top of the breast, towards the nipple.
- Do not wear tight bras. Tight bras restrict the flow if milk, resulting in blocked milk ducts.
- Using Breast massage for a plugged duct, will help get the milk loose before you nurse or pump.
- Try nursing on the sore breast first, if it is too painful, you can express some milk, or wait for a letdown, before giving your baby the infected breast.
- “Dangle feeding” as seen in the picture, will pull the blocked ducts open, with the help of gravity.
- If your breast is not completely drained after a feeding, you should try pumping after feedings.
- Trying different positions while breastfeeding, might help the milk flow easier.
- If there is a little white spot or blister on your nipple, you can try puncturing it with a sterile needle, then allow your baby to drain the duct.
- You can use a cold compress after feedings for pain relief.
- Make sure you get enough rest.
- Drink plenty of fluids and clean water.
- Eat well (breastfeeding diet guidelines).
- If the plugged duct does not clear within two days, you can try therapeutic ultrasound at your local physiotherapy office. (2 watts/cm2, continuous, for five minutes to the affected area, once daily for two days.)
- Tight restricting bras or sleeping on your stomach, may result in blockages. (Try to keep pressure on the breasts to a minimal) Also, stay away from heavy arm exercises.
- Plugged ducts and weaning: These can be prevented by weaning gradually.
- Distracted babies: Try to keep your baby's attention while breastfeeding, by using a nursing necklace.
- A blocked nipple.
- Skipping feeds.
Medication needed for blocked ducts
- For pain relief, a mother can use ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Mom does not need to use an antibiotic if she has blocked ducts.
If you think you might have mastitis, (usually recognized with a high temperature and flu like symptoms) you should see your physician and let them know that you are breastfeeding.
- Moms should take a blocked breast duct seriously and start using the advice above. A plugged duct if not treated, can turn into mastitis, which can turn into a breast infection (infected milk ducts) and ultimately into an abscess.
Most of the time, if a mother just continues to breastfeed on demand, a blocked breast milk duct will disappear within two days.
What about preventing recurrent plugged milk ducts?
- Mom can take a daily supplement of Lecithin (1200mg), three times per day.
NB – Important fact
Do not stop breastfeeding because of a blocked breast duct, this will make it worse, and might even cause mastitis.
Other pages on "breastfeeding problems" in connection with blocked ducts breastfeeding
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