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What are blocked ducts?

Blocked ducts occur when the pipe carrying milk through the breast becomes plugged.

The milk ducts in the breast carry milk from the 1mm wide milk making sacs, called alveoli, towards the nipple. The milk ducts are very narrow where they meet the alveoli, and increase in size as they converge on their way towards the nipple, much like creeks draining into rivers that then drain into lakes or oceans.

Blocked duct | clogged duct | pluugged duct

When you get a blockage it’s as if there is a dam wall in the way preventing milk from getting down the pipe.

Clogged duct | Blocked duct

What are the signs of  blocked ducts?

  • pressure building in a local area of the breast
  • it often begins as a pea-sized lump that gets larger over time if the blocked duct is not cleared
  • there may be a light pink tinge to the skin
  • tenderness in the area of blockage
  • a white pimple/blister may appear on the nipple, known as a bleb
  • baby may fuss due to a slower milk flow
  • no high fever present but you can feel a little uncomfortable in yourself

How can I treat blocked ducts?

Start massaging the area straight away using 5-10% pressure on the skin at the blockage.

  • continue to feed baby as their suck can be best to clear it
  • use warmth to soften the blockage, it’s food after all and will hopefully “melt” a little to clear
  • warm the area prior to a feed or expressing
  • feed from affected breast first to get the most vigorous suck on that side when baby is hopefully hungry!
  • massage towards the nipple when feeding
  • feed with baby’s nose at the site of the blockage if you can so you may need to try different feeding positions to help empty your breast
  • recurrent blocked ducts may respond to soy lecithin to reduce the stickiness of the milk
  • if the blockage feels all the way to the nipple, check for a bleb (white spot – easiest to see part way through a feed when pressure has built up behind it)

How to prevent blocked ducts?

  • improve the flow of milk through the breast
  • don’t leave feeds too late
  • if the breast feels too full and it’s not time to feed, express to comfort
  • avoid tight tops and seams compressing the breast
  • check your baby carrier straps are not compressing a part of your breast
  • check that your breast pump is positioned well
  • lecithin supplements have helped some women with recurrent blocked ducts
  •  

Has this blocked duct become mastitis?

This is definitely possible. The differences between mastitis and blocked ducts are:

MASTITIS

high fever

redness

aches and pains

flu-like symptoms

BLOCKED DUCT

lump

tenderness

local engorgement

 

mastitis inflammation | mastitis infection | what is mastitis

For further information on mastitis, see our Mastitis Info page.

Ultrasound therapy?

Ultrasound therapy may be useful in clearing your blocked milk duct, or at least in helping to clear it. The ultrasound therapy creates a local thermic effect (heat) when the wand is moved over your skin. The ultrasound waves themselves create a vibratory effect in the tissues underneath, and so if there is a blocked duct there, the vibration may jiggle the blockage material right at the source of the problem. This can assist the massage component of blocked ducts treatment due to a loosening of the blockage with ultrasound prior to the massage. The ultrasound therapy is painless and simply requires the practitioner to move the wand head over the skin with some gel lubricant. You may feel some warmth radiate from the wand.

Pain meds for blocked ducts?

A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen provides the most-effective reduction in symptoms such as pain and inflammation. Paracetamol can be taken in conjunction with ibuprofen. Use as directed and speak to your pharamacist about your individual use.

Antibiotics for blocked ducts?

Antibiotics are not used in the treatment of a blocked duct. They may potentially be useful if you experience mastitis but many mastitis sufferers do not require antibiotics.

What else?

Clogged milk ducts can pretty frustrating and uncomfortable to deal with — but keep at it. Most often you are able to clear it with requiring further intervention, or developing an inflammatory response of mastitis

If the clog persists despite your efforts for longer than 2 days — or you find you’re experiencing frequent issues — our clinic provides blocked duct treatment to teach you self-massage treatments to clear the blockage, as well as preventative strategies for you to improve your breast tissue health.  This in turn may prevent blocked ducts occurring.  You can make an appointment online or by calling the clinic.

Another option if you are not local to our clinic is to check out our sister company, Your Two Jugs Pty Ltd, an online education platform teaching women our blocked duct therapy so they can help themselves. Our Blocked Duct Masterclass also has preventative techniques for you to master so you might be able to stop the stress of recurrent blocked milk ducts.

consider making an appointment with a lactation consultant (breastfeeding specialist) or your doctor. You may be able to change some things in your feeding routine to help with better drainage of your breasts.

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