Do I have plugged ducts and how do I deal with it?

Plugged ducts refers to the condition where there is obstruction to milk flow in one or more milk ducts in the breast. This may be a result of an inflammation of the milk duct, restricting milk flow. This is a very common condition among breastfeeding mothers, though some women are more prone to it than others. In general, this condition can be managed and treated at home.

Signs of plugged ducts

You may have plugged ducts if you notice a hard, tender lump in your breast that is causing some redness in your breast. The pain or discomfort may get worse in between feeding, and better after a feed. Plugged ducts, unlike mastitis, do not cause fever-like symptoms.

Causes of plugged ducts

Plugged ducts are often a result of mothers not effectively draining the breasts regularly. This may due to a number of reasons, which include:

  • Improper latching during feeding
  • Over-supply of milk
    This is most common during the first few weeks of breastfeeding where your body is adjusting to the amount of milk that your baby needs.
  • Large gap between feedings
    This may become a more common occurrence when you have to resume work and are unable to directly nurse your baby.
  • Compression of the milk ducts
    This may be due to an ill-fitting nursing bra, tight clothing, or from sleeping on your side or stomach.
  • Stress and fatigue
    Stress can inhibit the ‘let-down’ reflex in your breasts, not allowing milk to drain effectively

Risks of plugged ducts

If you find that you have plugged ducts, it is important to address this problem immediately. Milk that remains in your breasts for too long may cause more serious problems and develop into mastitis.

Dealing with plugged ducts

Once again, the steps to treating plugged ducts are similar to that for treating engorgement. It is still absolutely safe to continue feeding your baby. Additional tips for resolving plugged ducts include:

  • Feeding your baby from the affected breast first
    This is when your baby is sucking the strongest. It is also more effective to have your baby’s chin aligned or ‘pointing towards’ the blockage.
  • Get the dried milk out of your breast
    This is best done while you are having a hot shower or using a warm compress. In combination with the breast massage, try rolling your nipples between your thumb and your index finger. This helps to widen the tiny openings in your nipple. Keep alternating between massaging and rolling until you see a white spot in your nipple, and then squeeze it out.

You may or may not be able to resolve the problem immediately. Remember to relax and keep trying. Catch up on rest as well if you can. If you start feeling unwell and begin to experience flu-like symptoms, seek medical help.