Avoiding and managing blocked ducts

What to Know

  • Know the signs of a blocked duct
  • Learn how to treat and prevent blocked ducts

Blocked ducts are an all-too common frustration for breastfeeding mamas. A blocked duct occurs when the flow of milk through your breast becomes obstructed (also known as milk stasis). The most common sign is a hard lump in the affected breast, which may also be sore, red or swollen near the blockage. You may see some decrease in supply (since milk can’t pass through), or strings of thickened milk when you express.

Mom pumping milk

Common causes of blocked ducts

The two main causes of blocked ducts are inadequate removal of milk and pressure on the breast. If your baby has a sub-optimal latch, weak suck, or tongue tie, he might not be removing milk efficiently. Infrequent feedings, long separations from baby (without pumping) or abrupt weaning can also all cause a back-up of your supply and put you at risk for blocked ducts.

External pressure on your breasts from a tight bra, diaper bag strap or seat belt, for example, can restrict milk flow. Lying on your stomach for extended periods may also cause problematic pressure.

In addition to supporting adequate milk release and avoiding undue pressure on your breasts, rest and proper nutrition are also important to keep things flowing. Easier said than done right now, we know. But maternal stress and fatigue are also factors for developing a clogged duct, and good nutrition can support your immune system which wards off progression to mastitis (an infection of the breast). A Happy Family Coach can assess your diet and make suggestions for quick and easy meals and snacks – one less thing for you to worry about!

At-home treatment

If you do have a blocked duct, don’t fret. You will likely be able to dislodge the blockage and relieve your symptoms at home with the following treatment(s):

  • Heat – a warm shower or compress before a feeding can work wonders. You can use a disposable diaper as a compress – it will hold heat longer than a cloth.
  • Massage – your breasts are working hard right now, why not pamper them! Gently massaging the affected breast before and during feedings can improve milk drainage. It will also help with pain relief – a study of breastfeeding moms dealing with issues like clogged ducts and engorgement showed a significant improvement in pain after initiating therapeutic breast massage. Start at the blockage and massage towards the nipple.
  • Empty your breasts – feeding your baby frequently (we’re talking every two hours), and starting each feeding on the affected breast can help. If this is too painful, try feeding on the other breast until letdown is initiated (baby will start audibly swallowing and you may feel a slight pins and needles sensation). Then switch to the breast with the clog. Pump or hand express after feeding to ensure optimal milk removal.

If you suspect you have a blocked duct, there is no need to stop breastfeeding (though the associated pain may make continuing a challenge). Emptying your breasts frequently and thoroughly is the best way to both prevent and treat blocked ducts. Taking quick action can bring relief and prevent further complications like mastitis.

What to Do

Empty your breasts regularly

To prevent a blocked duct, feed your baby frequently and make plans to pump or hand express if you know you will miss a feeding. A Happy Family Lactation Counselor can help you correct any feeding issues. If you suspect major feeding issues talk to your doctor.

Avoid pressure across your chest

Avoid underwire bras while you are lactating, and be mindful of any clothing, straps or activities (such as lying in a prone position) that may be putting pressure on your breasts repeatedly or for prolonged periods of time.

Contact a lactation consultant

A lactation counselor (like the Happy Family Coaches!) can help you correct any issues with positioning or latch that affect your baby’s ability to empty your breast efficiently, a major factor in preventing blocked ducts.

They can also provide support if you already have a clog to get you back on track with breastfeeding.

Apply heat

Massage the blocked area in a hot shower before feeding – an excellent reason to tell your partner to take the baby and spend a precious few minutes alone! You can also apply a warm compress (switch to cold between feedings to reduce pain and swelling).

Rest up and eat well

You can only be your best for baby if you take care of yourself, too. Try to make time for rest and proper meals. The Happy Family Coaches can help.

Now is the time to call on the friends and family that offered help when your bundle of joy arrived. Consider cuddling up in bed with your baby to spend some quality time resting and nursing.

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