Breastfeeding is the biologically natural way of feeding your small baby but that does not mean it comes without challenges.
For some women, these challenges occur only in the early days and then breastfeeding becomes a very smooth sailing journey.
For others, there can be a couple of recurring issues that require an action plan when they surface. One such issue can be a blocked milk duct. This is also often referred to as a “clogged duct”.
If left untreated, it can lead to further issues and complications. There are many things that you can do if you spot a blocked duct has occurred. Knowing which signs to look out for is the first place to start.
A blocked or clogged milk duct is exactly what the name suggests. It occurs when the milk cannot flow freely throughout the duct and out of the breast as it becomes clogged and backed up.
Due to the nature of this issue, the first symptom is often pain or discomfort when feeding. The baby may show signs of being fussy on that particular breast. They may be inclined to unlatch or feed for shorter periods of time because the milk is now flowing as efficiently as it usually does.
The discomfort and pain can vary depending on the location and severity of the blockage but within a short space of time it can grow from being slightly uncomfortable to extremely painful.
It can make feeding especially painful, which is a bit of a catch twenty-two as breastfeeding is the best way to remove a blockage. Some of the most common signs to look out for are tender breasts, a series of small lumps or one larger lump, swelling, redness and the breast tissue feeling hot to the touch.
There are several reasons why a milk duct may become clogged or blocked. In some cases, it is due to a bad latch and for other women it occurs because milk is not fully drained from that breast.
As a result, milk builds-up and causes a blockage. Stress can also be a contributing factor. While symptoms may be mild at first, a blocked milk duct can quickly become a much bigger issue as it may lead to an infection called Mastitis. Mastitis is an extremely uncomfortable breast infection which requires antibiotics. It can leave a woman feeling very poorly for up to a week.
If you suspect that you have a blocked milk duct it is important to act quickly to prevent it from worsening. Massage, heat and feeding are the greatest tools.
Placing a hot compress on the affected area can help to soften the tissue and help the milk to flow more freely. You can use a muslin or a clean cloth. Many women find filling a clean nappy with hot water to be an excellent hot compress also.
Standing in a hot shower and holding the shower hose against the affected area is also very helpful. If you can apply heat and massage at the same time it is very helpful.
While these things can really help, neither will be quite as helpful as your baby. Feed, feed, feed! Breastfeeding your baby regularly is the best way to help shift the blockage, particularly if you can point their chin in the direction of the tender area.
Gravity is a very useful tool and some mums have had great success by doing a couple of “dangle feeds”. This involves kneeling over the baby and essentially feeding them by allowing your breast to dangle down into their mouth.
Gravity should help the blockage in this case. When trying to remedy a blocked milk duct it is important to remember to feed from the other breast so that another blockage does not occur as a result.