Blocked Milk Ducts

What is a blocked milk duct?
Some signs and causes.
Ideas to help
Taking further advice
Infection, fever or baby feeding problems.

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breastfeedingWHAT IS IT?

A blocked milk duct is quite common during breastfeeding. It is often called mastitis, but it is not the same as true mastitis because there is no infection. It need not stop you breastfeeding your baby.

It is caused by the milk from one segment of the breast not being completely drained.

Some of the milk in the blocked area may leak into surrounding tissues, causing mild inflammation. This is NOT the same as infection, but may lead to it. These natural measures help prevent that.

Blocked milk ducts do not require antibiotics if they are not infected. Please see Take Further Advice if you suspect infection.

o Tenderness or bruised feeling.
o Lumpiness in one area.
o Pain as your milk lets down.
o Redness. This is inflammation - may not be infection.
POSSIBLE CAUSES are anything which has interrupted or blocked the flow of milk, even once:
o A hurried feed or missing a feed.
o Baby having a cold, leading to difficulty feeding.
o Unusual food has made your milk taste different, and baby did not like it.
o Pressing your finger on the breast to allow air to baby’s nose.
o Tight bra, clothes, seatbelts.
o Sleeping in a position that squashes the breast.
o Milk dried into one of the ducts in the nipple.
Suggestions only. Do not neglect medical guidance or treatment.
About your baby:

  • Feed often, and always from the blocked breast first, until it clears.
  • Try different feeding positions; especially try to position baby’s chin opposite the
  • blocked duct. It is always good to vary feeding positions anyway.
  • Try a ‘gravity feed’ position, allowing your breast to hang into baby’s mouth.
  • Try feeding in a warm bath.
  • Check baby is well latched on. It's natural to be nervous if your breast is painful, but essential to check, as a poor latch-on can make things worse. Look to see that baby has your whole areola in their mouth. This is the coloured skin around the nipple. It is easiest to achieve if baby opens wide before taking in your nipple.
  • If you need to allow air to baby’s nose, lift the breast from underneath with your whole hand, rather than pressing on the surface with your fingers.
  • Make sure you support the whole of baby’s body during a feed, so baby can relax fully.
  • If baby has a cold, clear her nose as well as you can before a feed. You can use a tissue or cotton-bud; don’t push it right inside the nose. Moistening with warm water, oil, or breast milk helps. Pharmacies sell nasal aspirators to help clear excess mucus.
  • Check baby isn’t trying to feed with her head turned to one side, or with her chin tucked in, both of which are more difficult and may cause her to stop feeding sooner.
About yourself:
  • Hot and cold compresses can be useful. Try hot and cold flannels, micro-waveable hot packs, hot water bottles, packets of frozen peas (wrapped in a cloth!). Using heat and cold alternately stimulates blood flow, which helps clear the area. Using heat at the start of a feed may help the milk flow. In between feeds, alternate hot and cold compresses every few minutes, for a ten minute period, every 2 hours.
  • Massage the blocked area. Massage from the outside of the breast towards the nipple, as if expressing milk. You can massage during a feed, in between feeds, and in a warm bath.
  • Some women find it easier to massage with a comb. Use a wide-toothed comb, or one without sharp teeth; soap the blocked area, and ‘comb’ from the outside towards the nipple. This can help break up the blockage. Try not to leave soap on your nipple.
  • Arm-swinging exercises encourage circulation: washing windows or cleaning the car!
  • Check your nipples for a white ‘spot’ that may be dried milk. Gently squeeze or pick it out.
  • Rest more, perhaps you have been overdoing things.
  • Homeopathic remedies have traditionally been used for blocked ducts. Call a homeopath, or contact me.
  • Contact a breast feeding counsellor, numbers below.
TAKE FURTHER ADVICE or see your doctor or midwife, if you have a fever for more than 24 hours; if your nipples are cracked or your breasts are very painful; if there is blood in your milk; if baby often vomits your milk; if baby is dehydrated or does not gain weight. Always maintain contact with your midwife, doctor, health visitor or other health professional.

NCT : Breastfeeding helpline: 0870 444 8708, 8 am – 10 pm 7 days.
La Leche League: Helpline 0845 120 2918

See also

Breastfeeding: Natural and Homeopathic Remedies
Tips on encouraging breast milk, and more.

Pregnancy and Childbirth Intro page and full list

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