Breast pain and mastitis, often caused by clogged milk ducts, are among the key challenges of breastfeeding moms. However, in contrary to common belief, there are many women who successfully breastfeed without experiencing them. In this article, we will discuss the main causes of clogged milk ducts and give you a few tips on how to minimize their risk.
The breast milk is produced in small clusters of cells called alveoli. Milk ducts are small milk-transporting tubes through which the breast milk flows from alveoli to nipple. The clogged duct means that there is a blockage in a milk duct impeding the flow of the milk from alveoli to the nipple. It can make nursing painful and, if not treated properly, can lead to inflammation and breast mastitis.
Causes of clogged milk ducts
The improper latch is, perhaps, the first among all causes. If your baby is not latching well on your breast, she or he will not be able to drainage it efficiently. In result, an excessive amount of milk will stay in the ducts leading to their blockage. The same may happen if you are using a bad pump or pumping your breasts incorrectly.
Breast engorgement and oversupply come second and have the same underlying causes – insufficient milk drainage from breasts. If you do not breastfeed frequently, skip (night) feeding(s), wait too long between them or supplement with formula, the risk that you will end up with breast engorgement is high. Women who have oversupply are at higher risk of engorgements and clogged ducts. If you suspect oversupply, consider meeting lactation consultant. She will help you to regulate your milk supply in a proper and least harmful way for you and the baby.
Milk bleb (or milk blister) is a blocked nipple pore. Usually, it means that a milk duct opening is covered by a small piece of skin that blocks the milk flow. The bleb usually looks like a white, clear or yellow dot on the nipple.
Any breast pressure, caused by a tight bra, clothing, or a heavy bag can lead to clogged milk ducts. Vigorous or strenuous exercise of the upper part of the body can also cause breast pressure.
Breastfeeding mother’s stress, dehydration, and fatigue that do not allow her body to function properly can indirectly cause plugged duct. Moreover, stress may slow down the production of oxytocin hormone responsible for milk ejection and make the drainage inefficient.
Symptoms of clogged milk ducts
Clogged duct usually causes a hard lump or local engorgement on or around the plugged area. That area may feel swollen and even look reddened, and may still feel full after feeding. However, many mothers will not notice any obvious lump or engorgement, but will still feel some pain and tenderness, especially during feeding. In some cases, a low fever may be present, too.
How to prevent clogged milk ducts
- Breastfeed your baby on demand and frequently. Do not skip feedings or wait too long between feedings. Most importantly, avoid breast engorgement. If you still feel engorged after breastfeeding, pump a little until that feeling is gone.
- Try multiple breastfeeding positions that will allow your baby to drain different parts of your breast. If you suspect a clogged duct then nurse in a position in which the baby’s chin is pointing to the suspected clogged duct.
- Avoid pressure on your breasts. Prefer bras without underwire or wear the one-size bigger bra. Avoid holding the baby with the arm of the same side for a long time; change sides often. Remember that any pressure on your breasts increases the risk of a plugged duct.
- Sleep, rest and take care of yourself as much as you can. Keep a healthy diet and avoid saturated fats: they are believed to increase the risk of plugged ducts.
If you experience repeated clogged ducts, check your baby’s latch, breastfeeding position, and overall organization of the breastfeeding process. The most preferable way to deal with repeated clogged ducts is to seek the assistance of a professional – a doctor or a certified lactation consultant.
Did you ever have repeated clogged ducts? How did you change your breastfeeding routine to avoid them? Share your experience with us.