Clogged Ducts and Mastitis
Prevention and Remedies
If you experience extreme pain in your breast, you might be experiencing mastitis or a clogged milk duct. An unpleasant issue for Milky Mamas everywhere is clogged ducts, or worse, mastitis, which is an inflammation of the breast caused by an obstruction, infection, and/or allergy. It usually affects only one breast, but it is an intense pain.Mastitis can be an extremely painful and stressful experience. It can happen to any mama at any stage of breastfeeding, but it is most common in the first 2-3 weeks postpartum.
Keep reading to understand the differences between clogged ducts and Mastitis, signs to look out for, and treatment options. The more you know, the better prepared you can be! In some cases, mastitis can be preventable.
A clogged (or blocked) duct is an area of the breast where milk flow is obstructed. The pore on the nipple may be blocked, or the clog may be further back in the ductal system. A clogged duct usually comes on gradually and affects only one breast at a time.
Many mothers confuse clogged milk ducts with mastitis because they have common causes and symptoms. Although similar, mastitis is what happens if a clogged duct is not cleared and is more severe.
This can happen when you have engorged breasts, incomplete removal of milk, infrequent or skipped feedings. All of these things might happen as a result or (but is not limited to) baby sleeping longer stretches of time (maybe through the night), oversupply, returning to work, or even abrupt weaning.
Clogged ducts are caused by:
- Breast engorgement
- Incomplete emptying of breasts
- Infrequent or skipped feedings
- Tight clothing or pressure on the ducts
Once the milk ducts become blocked it is easy for the inflammation to turn into mastitis when not treated right away. So, be sure to keep reading to avoid infection by staying on top of your clogged duct.
Symptoms and Side Effects
You might wonder what the different symptoms of a clogged duct versus mastitis are. With a clogged duct you will feel pain and you might feel a warm, swollen or even red area that is more tender. You might not have a big lump or large swollen area. You might only notice pain before a feeding when you are full. A clogged duct typically is more gradual, while mastitis may come on abruptly. Mastitis symptoms are then the same as clogged ducts, but more intense and you might even notice a red streak from the affected duct. Mastitis symptoms may even include a fever.
Symptoms of clogged ducts include the following:
- Hard lump
- Wedge-shaped area of engorgement
- Breast tenderness
- Warm spot on the breast
- Pain during feeding at clogged area
Side Effects may include:
- Temporary milk supply/pump output decrease
- Strings or grains of thickened milk or fatty-looking milk
- Tenderness in clog area even after the clog is gone
Remember that this is temporary. Try not to feel discouraged, and do act fast on your treatment to prevent mastitis and further clogs.
Those with mastitis often report feeling flu-like with symptoms like feeling run down, a low-grade fever, and body aches.
Symptoms of mastitis include the following:
- A hard lump or wedge-shaped area of engorgement on the breast
- Breast pain
- Swollen/hot breast
- Body aches
- Localized tenderness
- A decrease in milk supply
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call your doctor as soon as possible so you can be properly diagnosed and receive the necessary antibiotics.
The tried and true method of treating a clogged milk duct is to empty the breast thoroughly and often. You can empty your breast by breastfeeding (keep reading for different positions to try) AND/OR by pumping. Another remedy is to fill a silicone milk collector (like a HAKKA) with warm water and epsom salt. Suction it to your breast to draw out the clog. Other treatment methods for clearing a clogged duct are:
- Use heat and gentle massage before and during feeding (or pumping)
- Loosen bra and any constrictive clothing
- Ensure good positioning and latch
- Dangle feeding
- Feed on the affected breast first
- Pump or hand express after nursing - this will help ensure proper milk drainage
- Rest and drink plenty of fluids
When using heat, remember to test the temperature on the inside of your wrist as your breast skin is sensitive. Make sure to massage the clogged area toward the nipple. You can massage in a hot shower or soak your breast in warm water. Massaging will improve milk flow.
It might be helpful to try new positions while breastfeeding, however, always do what is most comfortable for you and your baby. Some people suggest positioning baby’s chin toward the clogged duct, but according to kellymom.com, recent research suggests milk ducts do not travel in straight lines, but in many different directions, so there is no evidence to support that it is more (or less) helpful to position baby this way. However, dangle feeding can help as gravity provides the assist! Dangle feeding is when you nurse while leaning over your baby
If you are not able to clear the duct, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
When treating mastitis the best course of action to take is to follow directions from your doctor and finish your entire dose of antibiotics.
It is also important for you to rest and either pump or nurse every 2 hours to clear the blockage.
Treatment for mastitis is the same as having a clogged duct as well as additional help from your doctor by a prescription. Other ways to treat mastitis are:
- Alternating hot and cold compresses
- Gently massaging the breast
- Using vibration on the clog
- Taking 4800mg of sunflower lecithin
- Taking a hot shower and hand expressing
It is perfectly safe to feed your baby breastmilk while you have an infection. Your breast milk contains antibodies to protect your baby from infection. Isn’t that amazing?! Keep in mind that until you are fully recovered, it may be wise to have family and friends help with baby duty. Extra stress will delay the healing process and increase the risk of recurring infections.
Mastitis is not always avoidable, but simple practices can be effective to keep it at bay.
Proper Latch And Positioning
Ensure that your baby has the correct latch and positioning during feedings. This ensures that your baby is efficiently emptying your breasts so no milk is left in the ducts. This will also keep your nipples from becoming sore and cracked, which is another point of entry for bacteria to enter your breasts.
Seek out help from a Lactation Consultant to make sure your baby has a good latch and to discuss different feeding positions. A Milky Mama lactation consultant will be happy to help you.
Avoid going for long periods between feedings. Once your breasts become engorged it is easy for a milk duct to become clogged.
If you are prone to engorgement in the mornings or after breastfeeding sessions, set aside extra time to pump. When your breasts are emptied they should feel comfortable and soft.
If you are wearing a bra that is too small or one that is too tight and constricting on your breasts, it can cause a disruption in the flow of milk from the milk ducts to the nipple. Avoid underwire bras as they are notorious for causing clogged ducts.
Follow the same guideline for tank tops and shirts. Your clothing should be comfortable and not put unneeded pressure on your chest.
Although there are health issues such as anemia or immune issues that can make a mom more susceptible to mastitis, it is usually a problem that can be avoided. Find a local breastfeeding support group led by an IBCLC to get advice on proper latch and positioning so your baby can efficiently nurse. You can also always consult with a Milky Mama lactation specialist here!
Have you had mastitis or issues with blocked milk ducts? Come join us in the The Official Milky Mama Lactation Support Group and let us know if you had similar symptoms and what worked for you!