What is a blocked milk duct?
Blocked milk ducts occur when the milk carrying pipe of the breast, called a duct, becomes clogged and therefore doesn't allow milk to pass through.
The breast ducts are the milk thoroughfare through each of the 15-25 lobes of the breast. Milk is transported from the 1mm wide milk making sacs, called alveoli, towards the nipple. The milk ducts begin their journey at the alveoli, and increase in size as they converge on their way towards the nipple, where there are 6-10openings at the nipple surface.
What are the signs of blocked ducts?
- local pressure building of the breast
- you may initially feel a pea-sized lump that increases in size over time if the blocked milk duct isn't unclogged
- the skin may have a slight pink tinge
- tender to the touch
- a white pimple/blister may appear on the nipple, known as a bleb
- fussy feeding from baby with a reduced flow of milk
- you may feel "off" with a blocked milk duct but with no high fever
Self-treating blocked milk ducts?
It's important not to leave a blocked and wait, please begin treating yourself as soon as you notice it!
- keep feeding baby, or expressing from the breast to try and move the blockage
- warmth may soften the blockage, it may melt the clog to a degree to prime the area for other treatment
- warm the area of the suspected clog prior to a feed or expressing
- feed from your affected breast first to get the most vigorous suck on that side when baby is hopefully hungry!
- massage towards the nipple when feeding or expressing
- try different feeding positions with baby’s nose at the site of the blockage to help empty the breast
- recurrent blocked ducts may respond to soy lecithin to reduce the stickiness of the milk
- if the blockage feels all the way under the areola (dark area) 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 milk ducts?
Some women seem to get blockage after blockage. Our course "Get in First: Your Breast Issue Prevention Strategies" is all about your breast foundation tissues and whole breast health.
But here are some other possible contributing factors to look at:
- 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 with the right size flange
- 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:
aches and pains
pale pink skin tone
For further information on mastitis, see our Mastitis Info page.
Further treatment for blocked milk ducts
Ultrasound therapy may be helpful to treat a blocked milk duct, or at least in assisting to clear it. The ultrasound therapy creates a heat effect locally in the underlying tissue when the wand is moved over the skin. There is also a know vibratory effect in the tissues due to the ultrasound waves themselves. So if there is a blocked duct there, the heat may soften the blockage material and the vibration may jiggle the blockage material locally at the place where the blockage is detected. This may help the massage component of blocked ducts treatment by loosening the plug with ultrasound prior to the massage.
Ultrasound therapy is not at all painful, 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 and potentially a reduction in tenderness after the therapy. Ultrasound DOES NOT replace working with your hands for a blocked milk duct.
Pain meds for blocked milk ducts?
A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen offers the most-effective reduction in symptoms such as pain and inflammation. Paracetamol could also be taken in conjunction with ibuprofen. Use as directed and you should always speak to your pharamacist about your health.
Antibiotics us for a blocked milk duct?
Antibiotics are not used in the treatment of a blocked milk duct as there is no infection for the antibiotic to act upon. Sometimes women are provided a script in case the blocked milk duct develops into mastitis, but many mastitis sufferers do not require antibiotics either.
Clogged milk ducts can terribly frustrating and uncomfortable to have to manage, especially when you are trying to take care of a baby. Many women find they can clear their blockage without requiring further treatment, or developing a bout of mastitis.
If you find that the clog persists regardless of your efforts for longer than 2 days, or you find you’re experiencing frequent issues, our Blocked Duct Masterclass may be what you are looking for in terms of specific guidance on how to treat the blocked duct. This includes preventative strategies to improve your breast health, therefore reducing potential for recurrent blocked milk ducts.
If you are in Melbourne, Australia, Elise & Katie work with their team of Osteopaths, offering hands-on therapy & ultrasound treatment at Boroondara Osteopathy.
Also 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.