By Kelsey Jack
For nursing or pumping mothers a blocked milk duct is something that can happen with a sudden onset. Early treatment of a blocked milk duct is recommended to prevent progression of the condition. If not treated a blocked milk duct may turn into a condition called Mastitis, a bacterial infection in the breast that requires immediate medical attention. Fortunately, at BodyTech Physiotherapy all of our therapists are trained to provide ultrasound treatment to help clear the blocked duct.
What is a Blocked Milk Duct?
Milk ducts are tubes that connect the glandular tissue where the milk is produced to your nipple. There are approximately 15-30 ducts in each breast. A combination of the let-down reflex and proper latching from your baby helps to pull the milk along the ducts and out the nipple. Blocked milk ducts occur when there is a clog in one of the ducts that affects how milk is able to drain.
What causes a Blocked Milk Duct?
Although the causes of a blocked milk duct are not fully understood, common risk factors include:
- Poor latching
- Residual milk
- Irregular, short, or skipped feeds
- Pressure on the breasts such as tight clothing or restrictive gear
How can I tell if I have a Blocked Duct?
Symptoms of a blocked duct include:
- Tender or painful area of the breast
- Lumpy, ropey, or firm feeling breast tissue
- Swelling and redness around the affected area
- Warmth over the affected area
Additionally, you may find that your baby is fussy about feeding from that breast as milk flow can be slower than usual.
Signs of Mastitis
Mastitis is inflammation of breast tissue caused by an infection. A blocked duct has the potential to develop into mastitis if left untreated. Other causes include a cracked or sore nipple that allows bacteria to enter the breast. If you develop mastitis, medical treatment is required as soon as possible.
Symptoms of mastitis include:
- Fever and chills
- Increased feeling of being run down or tired
- Increased redness and swelling around the affected area
- Pain or burning in the breast while feeding
- Muscle aches and pains
What can I do if I have a Blocked Duct?
Most blocked ducts will resolve on their own within 24-48 hours, however several things can be done to help the issue resolve more quickly:
- Continue to breastfeed on the affect side. Try and point your baby’s chin towards the area of hardness. It is also beneficial to use breast compressions while your baby is feeding to aid with drainage.
- Heat to affected area
- Soak affected breast in a warm, Epsom Salt bath. You can also massage the affected area while the breast is soaking.
- Massaging the affected area, starting closest to the nipple and working away. Always massage towards the nipple to aid with drainage. Some women find using an electric toothbrush to massage helpful.
- Pump or hand express after nursing
- Wear loose fitting clothing and a bra that isn’t overly constrictive
- Rest as much as possible
How can Physiotherapy help with a Blocked Duct?
If the above self-treatments are unsuccessful at resolving the blockage, therapeutic ultrasound with a trained Physiotherapist can be used to resolve the blockage. The ultrasound treatment is applied directly to the area of the blocked duct. Immediately following a blocked duct treatment pumping or feeding the child is required to help clear the duct. One treatment is often all that is required to resolve the issue. If two treatments on consecutive days do not resolve the issue, further medical attention is recommended.