Breastfeeding can put significant pressure on your body, particularly your breasts. While nourishing new life, we can deplete ourselves and run into nasty issues such as blocked milk ducts.
Blocked ducts are a common breastfeeding challenge. Typically, they crop up if we experience poor drainage (although there are a range of factors at play).
Aside from being painful and uncomfortable, blocked ducts can be a precursor for more serious issues such as inflammation, infections and mastitis.
What are the symptoms of blocked ducts?
Our breasts are filled with ducts, which move milk from deep within our breasts to our nipple openings. However, if our ducts become blocked, lumps can form that can cause soreness, pain and engorgement.
No two experiences of blocked ducts will be the same. However, there are a few common symptoms to watch out for, including:
- Parts of the breast becoming red, tender, lumpy and painful
- Even if an obvious lump isn’t present, you might feel tenderness or pain
- Painful white spots may develop on the nipple
- A low-grade fever may develop (usually less than 38°C)
How to treat and relieve blocked ducts
Relieving a blocked duct involves a combination of rest, feeding and gentle massage.
Some of the most effective ways to relieve blocked ducts include:
Keeping the affected breast as empty as possible by feeding from that side as often as possible.
Applying warmth to the affected breast prior to or during feeding to encourage milk flow. This could include a warm bath or shower, or warm compress.
Using gentle massage towards the nipple during feeds to flush away the blockage.
Changing breastfeeding positions to provide additional drainage for the area (note: this could include getting in some awkward positions, many a mother has fed her baby on all fours to clear a blockage).
- Using cool packs after feeds to relieve pain, swelling and inflammation.
How to prevent blocked ducts
The main culprit of blocked ducts is poor breastmilk drainage. The more frequently you feed and the better attachment you secure, the more likely you are to prevent clogged ducts in the first place.
Some of strategies you can try to prevent blocked ducts include:
Use breast massage before and during feeding or pumping to support proper drainage
Avoiding tight clothing or bras that constrict your breasts and opt for light, comfortable pieces
Mixing up your breastfeeding positions to ensure all ducts are being drained properly
Use warm compresses before feeding to relax the muscles and stimulate milk flow
- Apply a cool compress after feeding to relieve swelling or inflammation
What’s the difference between blocked ducts and mastitis?
There’s an important distinction between a blocked duct and a case of mastitis.
If you notice your blocked ducts don’t clear after a few days or you develop flu-like symptoms, it’s important to speak with your doctor or lactation consultant.
Mastitis usually forms from blocked ducts that haven’t cleared and can be caused by damaged nipples. It’s an inflammation of the breast and is caused by parts of your breast milk getting into your bloodstream and causing a whole body infection.
If you notice more intense pain or swelling, flu-like symptoms (such as joint aches, pains and lethargy) as well as a fever over 38.5°C, speak to a doctor immediately. They’ll need to prescribe a dose of antibiotics to resolve the infection.