Plugged or clogged milk ducts happen when one of the milk ducts, or localized area in the breast, becomes blocked causing an obstructed flow of milk. Symptoms include tenderness in a localized area accompanied with a firm or hard lump. The area usually is hot to the touch, swollen with possible redness. Plugged or clogged milk ducts do not cause a fever. Plugged ducts tend to come on gradually and usually only effect one breast. The clog may appear at the very tip of your nipple, known as a “Milk Bleb” which is clogged pore, or the clog could be further back in the ductile system. Either way, it isn’t a very pleasant experience. Some mothers may notice that the lump feels more painful before feeding, tender during “let down” and less severe post feed.
Plugged ducts can be caused by:
- Inability to adequately empty the breast
- Skipped feedings
- Inflammation due to breast infection, or candida (yeast)
- Continuous added pressure on a specific duct restricting complete milk flow (Most Common Reason) This can be caused by wearing a tight underwire bra, constantly holding the breast with your hand and fingers while feeding, or from placing a finger between the breast and the infants nose.
Some mothers fear their baby can’t breath being that close to the breast. So, they follow their instincts, using their finger as a barrier to push the breast tissue away from the infants nose. However, babies are obligatory nose breathers and do not have the same amount of cartilage in their noses like we adults do. Because of this most babies can breath side ways. All that to say that if your baby can’t breath he/she will come off the breast. By placing your finger in between, it not only will cause for a more shallow latch that can lead to un-needed nipple soreness, but it will also increase your chances of developing a plugged duct in that specific spot.
So what do you do if you develop these pesky little plugs? First and fore most, keep breastfeeding! One of the best ways to remove the clog, is to have your baby feed through it. Be sure to get plenty of rest, and drink tons of fluids! The more you increase your fluids, the better your chances are for moving that clog out. If a clog is left untreated it can lead to mastitis, a breast infection which requires medical attention. Here are some recommended steps to help you.
- Just prior to feeding, apply a moist heat to the affected area either with a moist warm towel or by taking a shower
- Soak the breast is a bowl of warm water and 2 tbls of epsom salts for 10 min prior to feeding, gently massage the area.
- If you have a “Bleb” or clogged pore on the nipple, then after soaking the breast in warm water, take a cotton ball saturated with olive oil and apply to the tip of the nipple. This will soften the blockage and allow it to unclog. NEVER use a needle to try and unclog the bleb. This can lead to increased damage and risk of infection.
- Massage the area before and during the feeding. Stroke the breast in a downward motion from chest towards the nipple during the feeding.
- Frequent feedings ensuring adequate emptying of the breast. It is really important that you are able to remove as much milk as possible from the effected breast.
- Start feeding on the effected side, and if possible nurse a few minutes longer.
- Avoid adding constant pressure with your finger or hand as mentioned above.
- Position the baby so that his/her lower jaw is in alignment with the clogged duct. The baby’s chin should be facing toward the plugged duct to allow the suction to be maximized toward the blocked area. Change positions to allow for adequate drainage of all ducts.
- Have someone massage you between the shoulder blades to help aid in relaxation resulting in better milk flow.
- As mentioned above: Take care of you! Drink plenty of fluids, rest, and if possible decrease your stress levels…which I know is easier said then done.
- Avoid tight restrictive clothing, bras especially with under wire.
***SPECIAL NOTE*** If the clogged duct does not go away and you begin to develop flu-like symptoms including chills and fever, call your doctor. You could be developing a breast infection known as mastitis.
If you have recurring plugged ducts, you may need to change your diet. Sometimes what we ingest makes our milk almost too thick and sticky. The following steps can help resolve recurring plugged ducts:
- Decrease your fat intake to only eating polyunsaturated fats.
- Moderate your salt
- Add Lecithin to your diet. This is an over the counter food supplement that works by decreasing the viscosity or stickiness of the milk.
*** If you have a history of depression, take caution as lecithin can increase your chances of developing postpartum depression sympotoms.
LECITHIN 6 WEEK TREATMENT PLAN
Week 1-2 week: 3600-4800mg a day (1200mg capsules: 3capsules 3 times a day with food)
Week 3-4: 2 capsules 2 times a day with food
Week 5-6: 1 capsule in the morning with breakfast
(May need to continue 1-2 capsules a day if stopping leads to additional plugged ducts)
Consult your doctor if symptoms persist or worsen
Copyright© 2011 Danielle Gauss/ JustBreastFeeding.com. All Rights Reserved