Blocked Milk Ducts
Are you a breast feeding mother? Have you noticed a small lump, a tender spot, or a hot or inflamed area develop in your breast? If so, you likely have a blocked milk duct. This is an easily treatable condition that may cause some discomfort, but if handled correctly should not significantly impact you or your baby.
What are Blocked Milk Ducts?
The breast contains milk glands and milk ducts. The milk glands produce milk, and the ducts transport it to the nipple. Blocked milk ducts are obstructions that develop in the ducts of the breast. These clogged ducts can cause soreness or tenderness. The discomfort associated with a blocked milk duct may be most noticeable when the breasts are full, and less so when they are emptied of milk after nursing. Although blocked milk ducts usually resolve themselves after a few days, they can be uncomfortable. Furthermore, they can also lead to a full-blown breast infection called mastitis. Thus, it is best to treat blocked milk ducts when they arise.
Although babies may become fussy when feeding at a breast with a blocked milk duct because the milk supply may not be flowing as easily as normal, there is no need to stop breastfeeding. Babies will not be harmed by a blocked duct; they can actually help to relieve it!
What Causes Blocked Milk Ducts?
The main cause of blocked milk ducts is breast milk that hasn’t drained from the breast properly. This could be for several different reasons. It could indicate that your baby is having latching or sucking problems. It could also be a result of wearing an ill-fitting bra and/or sleeping awkwardly or on your stomach. A blocked milk duct may also occur after an illness or during a busy or stressful time such as the holidays because these can cause disruptions to your regular feeding schedule.
Avoiding Blocked Ducts
The most effective way to prevent blocked milk ducts is to nurse frequently and long enough to empty the breasts of milk. If your baby does not empty your breast while nursing, you should pump out the remaining milk.
It is also important to ensure that your baby is latched on to your breast well. Some women find that trying different feeding positions helps milk to flow more freely. Ensure that you are wearing a bra that fits properly as this will help support your breasts adequately.
Treating a Blocked Milk Duct
There are some simple things that you can do to help ease your blocked milk duct. Applying heat to the affected area or soaking your breasts in warm water will help open the milk ducts and allow the milk to flow more freely. To relieve pain, a cold compress may be used following feeding.
Massaging the affected area and your breast from the armpit to the nipple, may help to move the blockage. This can be particularly effective after applying heat to the breast.
Although it can be difficult when caring for a baby, it is important to get rest if you have a blocked milk duct. Consider bringing your baby to bed with you if you are having trouble getting enough rest, and keep diapers, rattles, and other baby supplies close at hand for easy access.
A pain reliever and an anti-inflammatory agent such as ibuprofen may be taken to help relieve swelling and pain. You may also choose a simple pain reliever such as acetaminophin.
If you develop signs of fever, or feel achy and run-down, you may have developed mastitis. If this is the case, it is best to see your doctor.