Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience for the mum and baby , but comes with its own set of challenges. A common problem among lactating mums is a condition called Blocked/Clogged milk duct.
What is a Blocked/Clogged milk duct:
The ducts are small tubes that carry milk from the tissues deep in the breast to the nipple. Clogged, plugged, or blocked ducts mean that milk is not moving well in a part of your breast, and then builds or backs up, preventing the milk from getting through. A clog can happen anywhere inside the breast, from deep inside to the nipple and the milk stays in the breast for too long.
How do I know I have clogged milk duct?
Some of the common signs and symptoms include:
1. A painful lump in the breast that might be red and painful.
2. At times, it can also show up as a red, swollen, tender patch on the surface of the breast rather than a lump.
3. Feeling of fullness after feeding due to the back up of milk behind the clog.
4. Swelling that may feel better after feeding etc
Why does the milk duct get clogged or blocked?
The main reason is the milk staying the breast for too long and getting accumulated. This could be due to :
• The baby is not drinking enough milk or emptying the breast
• The baby is not latching well due to various reasons
• The baby is not feeding regularly due to sleeping long hours
• The mother is not feeding regularly due to work commitments or getting enough opportunities to drain the milk
• Mother’s sleeping position. For eg, sleeping on the stomach can affect the milk flow
• Holding the breast too tight while feeding
• Tight fitting bra can also obstruct the normal milk of flow leading to accumulation and block.
• A blocked nipple pore which looks like a tiny white speck at the end of nipple that can hurt when baby sucks
• Fatigue: Muscles that push the milk can get exhausted if you are tired/fatigued.
What to do If I have blocked duct:
1) Keep feeding: Start on the side that’s blocked and keep breastfeeding more than usual. Switch positions to allow for better drainage.
2) If the baby does not feed enough, express the milk or pump it to avoid any more blockage/clogging.
3) Make sure the baby is latching well. If not, consult a lactation consultant for proper advice and help.
4) Heat compress/shower: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends moist heat as the most effective and highly recommended treatment for relieving pain and loosening the plug. The AAP recommends warm, wet compresses or several hot showers a day.
5) If the clog is on the nipple which looks like a white speck, dip a cotton swab in olive or coconut oil and make small circular motions around the nipple for relief.
6) There are some who recommend using a small massager or electric toothbrush on the breast to break down the fat and unclog the ducts.
7) Massage: After each feed, gently massage the breast to help release the block. Start from the back of the breast and move to the nipple, giving attention to the firm/hard area. Also massage all around the breast without missing any ducts.
How to prevent blocked/clogged ducts?
1. Empty the breast well: Breastfeed regularly and do not allow yourself to become engorged.
2. Use a pump or massage to empty your breast completely if your baby finishes feeding and your breast is not empty. Post natal ayurvedic massage therapy is a great way to stay health and prevent clogging issues.
3. Establish a good latch right from the beginning. If the baby is not able to latch, consult your doctor or a lactation consultant for help and advice
4. Don’t’ wear restrictive clothing or tight bras. Anything that puts too much pressure on your breast can cause clogging.
5. Change the breastfeeding positions to allow the baby to drain milk from all areas of breast
6. Use moist heat ( warm wet compress) after feeding to prevent formation of blocks/clogs
7. Avoid sleeping on stomach too much as it can affect proper flow of milk.
8. Stay adequately hydrated and drink lots of water
9. Take adequate rest and keep your immune system active and energised.
10. If dried milk plug in the nipples is seen, wash them gently with warm water after each breastfeeding session.
Remember- It is very important to treat or manage blocked milk ducts as early as possible. If left untreated, the clogged ducts can get infected and lead to a condition called Mastitis. It is essential to consult your doctor as soon as possible if you have fever, lethargy and aches/pains, severe tenderness or warm breasts, swelling and painful breast etc. In some cases, Mastitis can get worse and lead to abscess-pus filled cyst.
By taking simple measures to prevent blocked ducts, you can make breastfeeding easier and enjoyable for you and your baby.