Do I have a blocked milk duct?
Do I have a blocked milk duct?
If you are breastfeeding and you suddenly notice that you can feel a lump in your breast – it may be painful or painless, or might even be a group of lumps together, then it’s very very likely that this is a blocked duct or ducts for that matter. Sometimes there may not be an obvious lump but just a little bit of tenderness or pain or you might even have a low grade fever of thirty eight point four degrees or below. But all of this is an indication that there is a blocked duct, and it’s also possible to have a blocked duct right on the end of your nipple where milk comes out.
There are many pores at the end of the nipple, and milk can come out from all of those pores. If one of them gets blocked, either by a little bit of skin covering that area, or just a plug of congealed milk, then milk cannot get out. That is a nipple blister or nipple bleb. So please have a look at the videos relating to that as well. But the majority of blocked ducts happen within the breast itself.
So what causes blocked ducts? Now one of the most common reasons is that you have suddenly become uncomfortably full . Maybe your baby hasn’t been draining the breast as efficiently as he could be. Or maybe you went a little bit longer between feeds, perhaps, and you’ve become uncomfortably full to the point of pain. Then there’s a general congestion going on, and you might think you’ve got loads of milk there but actually there’s a congestion of blood and lymph and milk, and milk is hanging around going nowhere. It’s very very easy for a duct to get blocked.
Sometimes blocked ducts are caused by something as simple as wearing a bra that is just too tight or tight fitting clothing. It might even be caused by an inflammation that’s happened because of a bacterial or fungal infection. So it is good to try to work out how these things have happened.
So I’d like to reassure you that this is a common situation that most breastfeeding mothers encounter at some stage of the breastfeeding journey. One of the most important things that you can do initially is to feed very frequently- if you can every couple of hours, and at night to ensure that milk is flowing, and this blockage is resolved. And if you’re unable to breastfeed please use a pump to pump your milk frequently every couple of hours or so, and use hand expression as well because using your hand can be really valuable to target the area where that blockage is. But whatever means you use, hand or pump or baby – very frequent feeding is important.
Another really effective way to help to get rid of the blocked duct is to use heat and massage – a combination of those two things, and that really involves having a warm bath, having a shower and massaging the breasts while the breast is still warm really, and then feeding your baby or pumping your milk or using hand expression, or a combination of all those things to help to clear that blockage. All of those things are a great combination.
It may be that the reason you got the blocked duct was down to the fact that your baby wasn’t draining the breast well – maybe not latched so well; so try different positions , and look at the videos relating to positions at the breast so that you can have a good understanding of the fact that babies can feed in hundreds of positions. Getting a good latch is a vital part of getting rid of a blocked duct.
If you find that these positions are still not getting rid of the blocked duct or they’re coming back a lot of the time, then one other position you can try is to actually place your baby on a flat surface, and go on all fours over your baby, massaging your breasts, and allowing gravity to help, coupled with the massage. It might not look very ladylike but it can really work well!
If your baby still doesn’t appear to be effectively draining the breast well I would encourage you to look at the videos regarding breast compressions because that is an excellent tool to help to drain the breast more fully while your baby is attached, and certainly to get rid of a blocked duct, it would be very useful.
If you do have any pain with this with the blocked ducts or ducts, please be assured that you can take paracetamol and an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen to help to reduce any inflammation that you have. You might even want to use a cold compress between feeds just to reduce inflammation as well.
If you do have a blocked duct it may cause a temporary reduction in your milk supply (boosting supply) but please be assured that milk supply is always in a state of flux and it can be boosted up again with further feeding and/or pumping.
Another thing to note is that sometimes after you’ve had a blocked duct, the area where that block duct was may remain a little bit red or inflamed for a few days perhaps, but this is normal and it will resolve.
So finally, once you have resolved this blocked duct the most important thing you can do now is prevention and I talk to lots and lots of women and pretty much encourage everybody that I see to use their hand to do hand expression whenever you feel uncomfortably full – at the slightest sign of engorgement (where you actually feel pain) that is the time when milk is going nowhere, when a blocked duct can occur – so use your hand to get minimal amount of milk off, and that will prevent you getting a blocked duct in the first place. Block ducts can lead on to mastitis and we certainly don’t want you to encounter mastitis and have to deal with that unnecessarily.
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Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022
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