What is blocked ducts?
Ducts in the breast carry breast milk from deep within the breast to the nipple. These ducts can become blocked and when milk builds up behind the blockage, a lump forms and your breast begins to feel sore. They can be incredibly painful however if treated quickly and appropriately can be effectively cleared and if so usually do not develop into mastitis.
Why do blocked ducts occur?
The most common cause of blocked ducts is the breast not draining fully. This can be a variety of reasons from skipping feeds (even 1!), too infrequent feeding, tight or ill-fitting bras and tops, or latching and sucking issues from the baby in a variety of feeding positions. Other risk factors include stress and fatigue, inadequate diet/hydration, history of mastitis, smoking, cracked skin on nipples.
What you may feel/notice
Symptoms of a blocked duct such as engorgement in one area, redness, occasionally a white spot on the nipple called a “milk bleb”.
Mastitis: If you develop a fever/chills, are feeling generally unwell with headaches, or other flu-like symptoms with or without a blocked duct you may be developing mastitis, and is important to seek medical care from GP immediately.
How to manage at home
- Rest as much as possible. Beg, borrow, steal sleep!
- Always try to feed from the affected breast first and as often as you can.
- Applying warmth for up to a few minutes to the affected breast before a feed can help with milk flow.
- Check that your baby is attached well and can get the milk easily. If you feel your baby’s latch is inadequate it is a good idea to seek the advice from a lactation consultant.
- Relax to help your let-down reflex work well.
- Very gentle massage of the lump toward the nipple during feeds.
- Change feeding positions to help empty the breast.
- Hand express if needed, after feeds.
- Cold packs after a feed may help relieve pain and inflammation.
- See your GP, lactation consultant, or a lactation-trained physiotherapist if you cannot clear the lump in a few days, or sooner if you develop a fever or feel unwell.
Seeking help- how can physiotherapy help manage your blocked ducts?
After a thorough assessment, your lactation-trained physiotherapist from Inner Active Physiotherapy will help to determine the most appropriate treatment for you. Therapeutic Ultrasound is often the best intervention for a blocked duct and mastitis which emits micro-massage and heat combined to soften the blockage, increasing circulation and opening up the duct which will improve the flow of milk. A physiotherapist will also guide through at-home management of self-massage techniques, feeding modifications, and lifestyle advice as appropriate. In most cases of a blocked duct, this treatment will fully resolve within 1-3 sessions. If symptoms of mastitis are present, your physiotherapist will liaise with your GP.
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