With clogged milk ducts, you may feel a lump in your breast and experience a painful
sensation when you touch the lump or the area around it. You’ll also notice that your milk flow from the affected breast has slowed down. A blocked milk duct should clear within a day, but you must completely clear your breasts of milk at the designated times. If you’ve tried the many at-home methods to clear clogged milk ducts to no avail, then it’s best to book an appointment with your doctor so you can prevent the blocked ducts from developing into mastitis.
Mastitis is a bacterial breast infection that develops for many reasons, including blocked milk ducts and infection caused by cracked nipples or broken skin around the nipple area.
If you do develop mastitis, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection, but you will have to regularly drain your breast milk to aid the process. In addition, if an abscess develops in your breast, your doctor may have to drain it using a special needle.
It’s still safe for your baby to breastfeed if antibiotics are prescribed or if you have developed an abscess.
Clogged milk ducts or mastitis normally only occur in one breast, and it’s normally the side that your baby least prefers.
To avoid blocked ducts, it’s important to alternate breasts when feeding or expressing milk. This will ensure that demand keeps up with supply.
Signs of a possible clogged milk duct
Clogged milk ducts usually occur in the first few weeks after childbirth but can also occur just after a growth spur when your baby demands less feeding. There is a fine balance to the supply and demand of breastfeeding that mothers need to regulate.
Too much supply with a drop in demand may lead to clogged ducts.
However, there are other causes of blocked ducts like missing feeding sessions, a too tight-fitting bra, pressure on your breast from your sleeping position, or even a shoulder bag chaffing against your breast.
Clogged ducts can also occur for no reason, so don’t be too harsh on yourself if you feel a lump in your breast; rather, look to resolving it as soon as possible.
One of the first signs of a possible clogged duct is a hard lump developing in your breast that is warm to the touch, and the area around the lump will be tender and inflamed. You may feel relief after a feeding session, and you may notice that your milk flow from the infected breast will be less.
If left unchecked for too long, you may begin feeling ill and will develop a fever. This is a sure sign of mastitis because a fever is not normally related to clogged milk ducts.
It develops primarily due to broken skin on and around the nipples and from blocked ducts not being treated early enough, which causes inflammation and infection to set in. But with the right treatment, you will recover quickly.
Treating clogged milk ducts
There are a number of things you can do to both treat and prevent clogged ducts from occurring.
Here are some methods that you may consider trying or including in your breastfeeding or expressing routine:
- Try and empty the affected breast as often as possible but be sure not to neglect the other breast. You may want to begin with the clear breast first, then move to the affected breast. It may be uncomfortable and painful initially, but as your mil drains and the pressure is reduced, the pain and discomfort will subside.
- Using a warm compress which can be a face towel soaked in warm water and placed on your breast. The heat will help to loosen up the blockage and, with enough suction, may clear the affected ducts. A hot shower and breast massage before feeds also help break up the blockage.
- In addition, you can massage the affected breast from the top and below towards your nipple. This will help to push the blockage towards your nipple.
- Vibrations also help to break up the blockage. Consider using a vibration/lactation massager which limits the pressure you would otherwise apply on your breast with a normal massage.
- Let gravity help you unclog the blockage by trying dangle feeding or pumping. You will simply lean over your baby with your breasts pointing down and allow gravity to help with the flow of milk.
- Ibuprofen helps to reduce pain and inflammation and is considered safe to use while breastfeeding
- An odd method is to ask your partner to help by providing stronger suction on the affected breast, but most partners will need a lot of persuading to lend a helping hand.
- Use a cold pack or a chilled cabbage leaf after every feed. This will help reduce pain and inflammation.
- Relaxation and breathing exercise during breastfeeding has positive results for many mothers.
- Change feeding positions and try and have your milk flow down towards your nipple.
- Once your baby stops feeding, you can try and express from the affected breast to make sure it is empty.
- Try not to let clogged milk ducts last for longer than 24 hours, but call your doctor if the blockage persists.
What is a nipple bleb?
Also known as nipple blisters, nipple blebs are congealed milk bubbles that prevent milk from being released from your nipple. Nipple blebs are mostly caused by any chafing against your nipple.
A thin layer of skin will grow over your nipple duct opening or pore, trapping the milk behind it. Blebs will appear as tiny dots on your nipple and can be painful, causing discomfort while you breastfeed. Your baby incorrectly latching may also cause nipple blebs.
To treat nipple blebs, you can use a moist heat compress or take a hot bath and soak your breasts, then express close to your nipple using your fingers. This should help to remove it but if not, then consult your doctor or lactation specialist.
How common is mastitis?
About one in ten breastfeeding mothers develop mastitis, but fortunately, the treatment is fairly quick. Taking care of your breasts and avoiding or treating blocked ducts is key to preventing the onset of mastitis, but it is an unavoidable eventuality in some cases.
What other medication can be used to prevent clogged ducts?
Lecithin is used by mothers who are prone to clogged ducts. It helps to reduce the stickiness of milk by increasing the fatty acid content of your breast milk.
Please consult your doctor or lactation specialist before you try any medication to help with blocked ducts. The correct dosage and compatibility with your baby and breastfeeding routine must be considered, so professional advice is a must.
There are many preventative measures to keep blocked milk ducts at bay. Still, if you do experience clogged ducts, which is common with breastfeeding mothers, you can immediately begin with home treatments which in most cases will relieve the condition.
If you catch blocked ducts early and begin with the treatment, you will most likely clear the blockage within a day or two at most. More stubborn blockages may require some extra effort or the intervention of a lactation specialist.
However, it is best to seek medical help if you develop mastitis as it can be extremely painful, and the accompanying fever can be debilitating. The sooner you get professional help, the better your chance of not getting an abscess in your affected breast.
Clogged milk ducts are part of the wonders of breastfeeding but treat them with urgency and do all you can to alleviate the condition naturally.
Suppose you do take prescribed antibiotics for inflammation and infection. In that case, the medication will not negatively affect your little one. Still, you must make sure that demand meets supply which means draining your breasts with regular feeding and expressing afterward if necessary.