Breast milk is undoubtedly the best for any baby but producing large volumes of milk isn’t all fun for mothers. In the first two to three months of breastfeeding, many mums experience flu-like symptoms and breast pain. They will also notice some reddened areas on the breasts. This is caused by blocked milk ducts that are bordering on mastitis. So how do you clear blocked milk ducts?
Blocked milk ducts vs. mastitis
Most mothers think that mastitis and blocked milk ducts are the same things. Although their symptoms can be similar, these two breastfeeding dilemmas are different and how you clear blocked milk ducts would be different from mastitis.
Mastitis is considered as an infection that’s prompted by a blocked milk duct while a blocked milk duct is just what it is – a blocked milk duct. When mastitis occurs, a mother’s breast isn’t just painful and reddened but abscesses could also be sighted.
Causes of blocked milk ducts
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When a mother’s milk production is greater than the milk volume expressed, it could cause blocked milk ducts. Unfortunately, blocked milk ducts are caused by other reasons as well.
Engorgement may be caused by a number of reasons. The most common reason is due to improper latching. Babies need to latch perfectly on their mother’s breasts to be able to completely drain the milk.
If the baby’s latch is weak or improper, it would cause a blocked milk duct because the breast isn’t completely emptied. Other causes for engorgement include ineffective suck, tongue-tie, nipple pain, sleepy or distracted baby, oversupply, hurried feedings, nipple shield use, twins or higher-order multiples and blocked nipple pore.
2. Infrequent feeding
A breastfeeding mother’s breast needs to be relieved of milk as often as it can. But when baby’s feedings are few and inconsistent, the milk could get trapped in the duct. Feeding could also have been reduced due to nipple pain, teething, pacifier overuse, busy mum, returning to work, the baby suddenly sleeping longer, scheduling, supplementing, etc.
3. Abrupt weaning
When mothers wean their baby from breastfeeding abruptly, the unexpressed milk could back up in the duct and cause blockage.
4. Pressure on the duct
Pressure could be from fingers, tight bra or clothing, prone sleeping, diaper bag, etc.
Stress, fatigue, anaemia, weakened immunity, a certain type of exercises are some reasons that you may have a blocked duct
Clear blocked milk ducts
Image source: iStock
Usually, women suffering from mastitis need to take medication, like Panadol and antibiotics, however, mothers who have blocked milk ducts don’t have to.
All they need to clear blocked milk ducts is to follow the basics and perform natural treatments to alleviate the pain and remove the blockage.
The basics to clear blocked milk ducts
The most important thing that mothers who want to clear blocked milk duct should do is to NOT stop breastfeeding or reduce their frequency as this could exacerbate the blockage as well as the pain. It is important to nurse every two hours and completely empty the affected breast as much as possible.
Plenty of rest, adequate fluid, nutritious food (plenty of fresh food and vegetables and reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet), hot compresses, breast massages and consistent use of breast pumps are highly recommended to constantly clear blocked milk ducts.
Natural treatments to clear blocked milk ducts
Image source: File photo
- Cabbage leaf poultice– to clear a blocked milk duct, let down should be encouraged by placing a cool cabbage leaf directly on the breast, followed by 2 sliced garlic cloves and then a piece of cloth and then your bra. After an hour, remove the leaf, garlic cloves and cloth. This could be done multiple times a day.
- Disposal diaper compress – fill the diaper with hot water (try the temperature on your wrist first to avoid burns), squeeze the diaper out a bit, then put the inside of the diaper toward the breast. This will stay warm much longer than a wet cloth.
- Lecithin – Lecithin, a very common food additive, has been recommended to combat recurrent plugged ducts. The reason why lecithin may help resolve and prevent plugged ducts is not clear. Per Dr. Jack Newman, “It may do this by decreasing the viscosity (stickiness) of the milk by increasing the percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk.”
- Supplements – Taking a Vitamin C supplement, B-complex, evening primrose oil and thyme can be helpful for any mom suffering from recurrent plugged ducts or mastitis.
Need Help? Don’t fret!
When in doubt, please refer to a lactation consultant, who can offer you more personalised advice according to you and your baby’s situation.
theAsianparent also has a Singapore Breastfeeding Mums Support Group that you can join for mum-to-mum advice.
ALSO READ: 3 common breastfeeding problems and how to solve them