What is a blocked duct?

What is a blocked duct?

A blocked duct is caused by inflammation that leads to the swelling of a duct within the breast. This can result in a build up of milk and small lump in the breast that is tender or painful to touch.

The first instinct for a breastfeeding mum who feels a small lump in her breast might be to massage the lump and remove extra milk to help relieve the blockage. It’s important to understand that aggressively massaging a blocked duct in hope of clearing the milk can make the situation worse, as it contributes to further inflammation of the duct. Increasing breastfeeding or pumping may also contribute to the problem if you have an oversupply of breast milk.

If you have a blocked duct, follow these steps:

  • Continue to breastfeed your baby as normal, or stick to your regular pumping routine
  • Apply warmth to the breast before feeding or pumping
  • Use very gentle massage to help encourage milk flow and release of inflammatory fluid from the breast
  • If you have recurrent blocked ducts, talk to a lactation consultant or our customer care team at Willby’s.

Can blocked ducts lead to mastitis?

Mastitis is caused from inflammation in the breast. Sometimes this can be the result of an unresolved blocked duct. If you have mastitis, you might experience any of the following symptoms:

  • A small lump in the breast that is tender or painful to touch
  • Pain while breastfeeding or pumping
  • An unusually warm or hot feeling in one or both breasts
  • A red patch or red streaks on the breast
  • Body or headaches
  • Fevers, chills, or similar flu-like symptoms

Treatment for mastitis is similar to treatment of a blocked duct. The most important step is ensuring that you are continuing to remove milk from your breasts, either by breastfeeding your baby as normal, or by following your regular pumping routine. In addition to this, you should also:

  • Apply cool packs to the breasts after feeding or pumping, to help relieve discomfort
  • Use gentle massage to help reduce inflammation
  • Consult your pharmacist about over the counter pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Ensure you are getting plenty of rest to help your body recover

If your symptoms do not begin to resolve within 12-24 hours, seek advice from your GP. Sometimes mastitis can be accompanied by a bacterial infection. In these cases, in addition to the above steps, a course of antibiotics will be required to treat the infection. Antibiotics will not be effective in the treatment of inflammatory mastitis.

Can blocked ducts and mastitis be avoided altogether?

The best way to avoid blocked ducts and mastitis is frequent and efficient milk removal.

If your baby has a painful or shallow latch, is not draining the breast effectively at each feed, or you have an oversupply of breast milk, this could increase the risk of blocked ducts and mastitis. If you are mixed feeding (i.e. combining breast and bottle feeding), it’s important not
to leave too long between breastfeeds, as milk that stays in the beast too long increases the risk of blocked ducts and mastitis. If you are exclusively expressing, you should use a hospital grade breast pump with correctly fitted breast shields. Seek advice from a lactation consultant, who can assess your baby’s positioning and attachment at the breast, give you advice about managing an oversupply, or check your pumping schedule, settings and fittings for efficient milk removal.

If you are suffering from recurrent blocked ducts and mastitis, taking a sunflower lecithin supplement and probiotic can help reduce blockages and increase good bacteria in the breast, reducing the risk for inflammation or infection.

This blog post was written by Emily Brittingham, the lactation consultant at Willby’s.

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