Blocked milk ducts during breastfeeding — causes, symptoms and treatment

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causes-symptoms-treatmentBreastfeeding is one of the most important things that a mother can do for her baby. With new research pointing to the innumerable benefits of breastfeeding, it is quickly becoming something that most mothers opt for. But there is another side-effect to not breastfeeding your child – blocked milk ducts. An extremely painful condition that results from the build-up of breast milk in the milk ducts; eventually forming a lump and leading to complications like mastitis.

What are blocked milk ducts?

This is a condition where the milk ducts, that are present in every woman’s breasts get blocked. This is usually seen if a lactating mother is producing more milk than she is able to express. This might result in blocked milk ducts or plugged milk ducts since the excess milk production causes the tissue around the milk duct to swell, hence pressing on the duct and creating a blockage.

Why does it happen?

Blocked ducts can happen if your breasts are not getting completely drained of milk on a regular basis.

Some common situations that may lead to this are:

When your baby is having trouble feeding for some reason or isn’t feeding often enough.

Using a breast pump that’s not powerful enough.

Abruptly weaning the baby.

If one of the ducts  becomes compressed or damaged, due to pressure from a nursing bra that doesn’t fit well or from sleeping on your stomach, for example. This may trap milk inside a duct.

Having an illness such as a cold.

Stress also plays an important role. It lowers the body’s production of oxytocin, the hormone that causes your breasts to release milk, and can lead to blocked milk ducts.

Does it happen in only pregnant or breastfeeding mothers or can anyone suffer from it?

This is a condition typical to lactating mothers only.

What are the common symptoms of the condition?

The first sign of a plugged duct may be a small, hard lump that’s sore to the touch or a very tender spot in the breast. Some women also notice redness on their breasts. The area may feel hot or swollen, but may feel better after nursing. If you feel achy, run down, and feverish, it could be a sign that your clogged duct has become infected

How is it diagnosed?

The diagnosis of this condition is usually based on your symptoms. If you are a lactating mother, your doctor will most probably tell you how you can resolve the situation. If you notice the lump after lactation you may be required to have a mammography.

How is it treated?

The best way to treat this is to nurse your baby as often as possible. If it’s not too painful, nurse on the side with the clogged duct first, because your baby sucks strongest at the beginning and that may help dislodge the plug. If your baby doesn’t want to nurse enough to empty the breast on that side, use a breast pump or hand express the milk.

You could also massage the swollen area frequently with a firm touch to help relieve the block. Keep changing your nursing position to ensure all your ducts are getting drained. Get enough rest and eat nutritious food to boost immunity and recovery.

What are the complications one can have if the condition is left untreated?

If left untreated, this might result in mastitis (infection of the breasts). The area may be red, sore, hard to the touch, or unusually warm. The swelling may or may not be caused by an infection. Signs of an infection include chills, a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and fatigue.

How can women avoid suffering from this condition?

Nurse the baby frequently and do not stop feeding abruptly. If the baby is having problem feeding, use a breast pump to ensure proper drainage of milk ducts. Also, you should feed the baby in different positions to ensure the ducts are completely drained.