Are you pregnant and still breastfeeding? Nursing women are prone to getting clogged milk ducts and when they remain clogged, they can lead to a painful infection in the breasts called mastitis. When you get clogged milk ducts, there are treatments and home remedies that you can try in order to break up the blockage.
What are clogged milk ducts and how can you prevent them? Read on to find out more about this condition and how to alleviate the tenderness and pain associated with it.
What are clogged milk ducts?
First, let's define what a duct is. It is a tiny tube that brings milk from your mammary glands to your nipples.
Blocked or plugged milk ducts is a condition wherein a blockage causes insufficient or poor drainage of the milk duct. When milk builds up behind this blockage, the intense pressure in the milk duct could lead to discomfort in the breast tissue, or may cause a lump to form.
Symptoms of clogged milk ducts include:
- skin that looks lumpy
- pain in the breast
- a tender, swollen lump in the breast
- heat and swelling
- slower milk flow from one breast, and
- a milk bleb (a small white dot on the nipple)
When the discomfort disappears after breastfeeding or pumping, then that is also a symptom of a clogged milk duct.
Why do clogged milk ducts occur?
Pregnant women who have recently given birth and opted not to breastfeed or have recently stopped breastfeeding are likely to experience clogged milk ducts.
A breastfeeding woman can also experience this condition when she does not fully drain the breasts during each nursing session since this can allow milk to accumulate and block the duct. When your baby favors nursing from one breast over the other, the less frequently used breast might get clogged milk ducts.
Other factors such as oversupply and breastfeeding a baby with a weak latch can also lead to clogged milk ducts. Putting pressure on your breasts due to an uncomfortable breastfeeding position, having an irregular breastfeeding schedule, having short breastfeeding sessions, or skipping nursing sessions also increase the risk of getting this condition.
How to clear clogged milk ducts
It is possible to treat clogged milk ducts at home in a span of a few days. Keep in mind that sticking to a regular and consistent breastfeeding schedule is the best way to prevent clogged ducts. During the early days of breastfeeding, it is recommended that you feed your child or pump as often as 8 to 12 times a day.
It is important to empty the breasts with the blocked duct completely during each nursing session. To check if the breasts have been fully drained, the breasts should feel lighter and they should not express any milk when they are squeezed.
Read more about how you can clear a clogged milk duct.
What to do before breastfeeding
To help soften the lump, use a warm compress. Wrap a warm (not hot) heat pack in a soft cloth and place it on the affected breast for several minutes.
Massaging your breasts under water can help break up the lump even further. Soak your breasts in a bowl with warm Epsom salt baths for 10 to 20 minutes. When doing the massage, move your fingers from outside of the breast and apply increasing pressure with your fingers as you move towards the blockage.
What to do while breastfeeding
Start by fully relaxing in order to trigger your let-down reflex. Do some breathing exercises at the start of the nursing session. Feed your baby with the affected breast so that it gets the most attention. Babies have a tendency to suck the hardest on the first breast they nurse from because they’re hungrier. Gently and slowly massage the lump towards your nipple to promote drainage.
Try changing positions when you breastfeed to allow your baby’s mouth to latch on better. Position your child so that the baby's chin or nose is pointing towards the clogged duct. This will make it easier to loosen the milk and drain the affected breast.
Check your baby’s attachment. Position yourself so that the milk flows "downhill" from the blockage towards your nipple. After your baby has finished feeding and it doesn’t clear the blockage, try expressing milk by hand or by using an electric breast pump. Nurse more frequently in order to drain the affected breast.
What to do after breastfeeding
Use an ice pack to alleviate pain on your breasts and reduce inflammation after nursing. Avoid positions that will put a lot of pressure on your breasts. When going to sleep, try not to sleep on your stomach since it can put pressure on your breasts.
Natural treatments to clear clogged milk ducts
Here are some home remedies and strategies that you can do to clear the blocked duct:
Use a chilled cabbage leaf poultice several times a day. Put a cool cabbage leaf on the sore area then two sliced garlic cloves followed by a piece of cloth and then put on your bra. After an hour, remove the cabbage leaf poultice.
Supplements such as B complex, Vitamin C, thyme and evening primrose oil may help women suffering from recurring blocked milk ducts. Check if your prenatal vitamins contain these.
Lecithin is also recommended to prevent recurring plugged ducts as it causes milk to become more sticky, so it adheres better to fat globules that would otherwise get stuck. The recommended dosage is 3600-4800 mg of lecithin per day or one capsule (1200 milligram) taken three to four times per day. When a week or two passes by with no blockage, you can reduce the dosage by one capsule.
Symptoms of Mastitis
When a clogged milk duct does not get resolved in several days, it could lead to inflammation of the breasts called mastitis.
Keep an eye for the following symptoms which could indicate that you have mastitis and that you need to see a doctor:
- nausea or vomiting
- pain while breastfeeding
- fatigue and flu-like aches
- red streaks over the breast
- pus coming out from the nipple
- expressed milk that looks gelatin-like or stringy
If you do get mastitis, your gynaecologist can treat it by prescribing antibiotics in order to eradicate the bacteria and eliminate the pus inside the affected breast tissue.
When you notice any lumps or sore spots on your breasts, treat them promptly so they don’t turn into mastitis.
If you still have clogged milk ducts for longer than two days or you find that they are recurring, consider making an appointment with a breastfeeding specialist (lactation consultant) or your doctor. They can assist you in making changes to your feeding routine to help with better drainage when nursing.
Original Publisher: theAsianparent