As a nursing mother, it is a wonderful feeling to feed your baby and establish a close bond. But there can also be challenges associated with breastfeeding. One of these is blocked milk ducts, which can, in some cases, lead to mastitis. In this article, we give you some tips on dealing with blocked milk ducts, and share home remedies that can bring relief.
Blocked milk ducts always occur when the breast is not emptied fully. Reasons for this can include your baby not taking enough milk to empty the breast, or too much milk production – but external factors such as stress can also cause blocked ducts.
A common reason for blocked milk ducts is the baby not taking enough milk during breastfeeding to empty the breast. It is not unusual, especially in the first few weeks after childbirth, for the breastfeeding relationship to take some time to establish. Perhaps your baby has yet to find the perfect suckling position at your breast, and is not taking milk from some of the ducts. It is important to get support from your midwife or breastfeeding consultant so that you get to know the different breastfeeding positions, and ensure that your baby suckles at the breast effectively. However, blocked milk ducts can occur when weaning: As your body has been used to producing a certain amount of milk over the last few months, it will maintain this level of production, even though some breastfeeding sessions have been replaced by solids. Since the breast will not then fully empty, there is a risk of blocked milk ducts.
Blocked milk ducts can also result when the milk comes in, and the production of breast milk is in full swing. In the first few days after childbirth, your body produces colostrum, a highly nutritious first milk, that your baby needs in small quantities. After a few days, colostrum turns into what is known as transitional milk, and ultimately, into “mature” breast milk. In this transitional phase, it can happen that your body will produce more milk than your baby needs at that time.
External factors, such as physical or emotional stress, can also cause blocked milk ducts. Pain after childbirth, the stress of motherhood, too many visitors, or even clothing that is too tight, can all contribute to blockages in the milk ducts. Make sure that you have a well-fitting nursing bra that does not constrict you in any way, and allows enough room for the blood to circulate properly.
If you suffer from blocked milk ducts – don’t panic. Despite being a painful condition, there are a number of different ways to clear blocked milk ducts. Home remedies can also help to relieve pain and clear the blockage.
If you have blocked milk ducts, it is important to continue breastfeeding. Frequent latching on allows the accumulated milk to drain away, and the amount of milk to adapt to your baby’s needs. Try to get your baby to latch on every two to three hours to encourage milk flow. Warm compresses before breastfeeding can help, by expanding the blood vessels and milk ducts, so that the milk can flow more freely. To empty the accumulated milk effectively, it is best to position your baby so that their chin points towards the site of the pain.
If you have the sensation after breastfeeding that your breast is not completely empty, you can remove the remaining milk by hand expressing. Gently massage your breast with your hands and then slowly hand express the milk. Your midwife or breastfeeding consultant will show you how to do this. Warmth can also be helpful in clearing blocked milk ducts more quickly.
If your baby does not want to suckle while you have blocked milk ducts, or if you need speedy relief, you can also express the accumulated milk by pumping. Pumping blocked milk ducts has yet another advantage: Unlike hand expressing, you can immediately store the pumped milk in a bottle, so that it is not lost and can be fed to baby later. However, only pump until it is no longer painful so that you do not continue to stimulate milk production.
After breastfeeding, hand expressing or pumping blocked milk ducts, it is helpful, to cool the breast. Cooling helps to temporarily reduce milk production, and relieve pain and swelling. Effective home remedies include quark poultices or cooled white cabbage leaves, as they adapt well to the affected site, and have an anti-inflammatory effect. Similarly, traditional cold compresses from the drugstore or cold washcloths can also bring relief.
Important: If your pain and symptoms still persist after around two days, consult your doctor for advice on what to do next.