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Blocked Lactation Ducts

What is a Blocked Lactation Duct?

In a lactating women, a blocked lactation duct is a milk duct that is obstructed and preventing adequate or any milk flow.  A blocked nipple pore is called a milk blister, further back in the ductal system it is called a blocked lactation duct.  A plugged duct usually comes on gradually but the mother may not notice it until it is painful or significantly obstructing milk (so it may seem to come on quickly).

How do I know if I have a blocked lactation duct?

You will usually notice a hard lump or area in your breast in the vicinity of the blocked duct.  It may be tender or painful, warm or hot, red or swollen.  You might have generalized tenderness or pain without feeling a lump.  The blocked lactation duct may move within the general area and become hard to locate.  A blocked duct may feel less painful or less hard or smaller after nursing.  If you have blocked ducts nursing or letdown may be painful.  A less common symptom is expressing strings or grains of thickened milk. 

What are the usual causes of plugged ducts?

Restricted milk flow may be due to low supply, engorgement or inadequate milk removal due to latching problems, ineffective suck, tongue-tie or other anatomical variations, nipple pain, sleepy or distracted baby, oversupply, hurried feedings, limiting baby’s time at the breast, blocked nipple pore, infrequent or skipped feedings, pressure on the duct from tight bra (underwire) or clothing, inflammation from injury, bacterial or yeast infection, or an allergy, stress, fatigue, anemia, or weakened immune system.

Please speak with a lactation consultant to determine your most probable cause of your blocked lactation ducts.

What is the recommended treatment for blocked lactation ducts?

It is necessary to treat a blocked lactation duct immediately to avoid mastitis.  It is important to continue nursing or pumping when you have a blocked lactation duct.  When your symptoms first occur, empty your breast by nursing or pumping.  Then, get in the shower and let the warm water hit your breast for about 10 minutes.  Step to the back of the shower, dry your breast off with a towel and perform manual expression. Speak with your physical therapist at ADAPT to help you perform this technique.  If your symptoms do not resolve you may need ultrasound and manual therapy performed by a Physical Therapist at ADAPT.   Speak with your lactation consultant about possible pain medication for symptom relief.

How can I prevent blocked lactation ducts?

Get as much rest as possible (without changing your feeding/pumping schedule) ask for help if possible to allow you more rest.  Drink adequate fluids!  Formula: For every 50 pounds of body weight drink 1 Liter of Water PLUS the amount that you are pumping per day).  Eat nutritious meals, including healthy fats, such as olive oil, freshly ground flax seed, flax seed oil, walnuts, salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines.  Canned (albacore) tuna and lake trout can also be good sources, depending on how the fish were raised and processed.  Fish sources of healthy fats are more easily utilized in your body and therefore you need less than other sources. 

Lecithin is also a supplement that can be helpful in preventing reoccurance of blocked lactation ducts.  Please refer to http://www.kellymom.com/nutrition/vitamins/lecithin.html for more information. 

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