Breastfeeding comes with many benefits for both mum and baby. It can be a wonderful and challenging experience all at the same time. Whether you are a new or experienced breastfeeding mum, painful blockages can develop in the breast tissue which can be distressing and disrupt your ability to effectively nurse.
What is a blocked duct?
When milk is not effectively removed from the breast, milk stasis occurs leading to a blocked or “clogged” duct. This occurs when there is compression of the duct, restricting milk flow, creating a blockage. Milk can build up behind the blockage causing a hard lump which may be painful and red. A bleb, or a small white bump on the nipple, may form also creating a further reduction or cessation of milk flow. It is estimated that 60% of breastfeeding women experience blocked milk ducts.
Typically, a blocked duct will improve within 24-48 hours. However, if the ducts do not clear on their own, the stasis of the milk can progress to mastitis and eventually abscess formation. Mastitis is the inflammation of the breast with symptoms such as redness, breast pain, swelling and generalized flu-like symptoms. Mastitis can be infective or non-infective – meaning an infection may or may not be present. It is important to treat the blocked duct early before it progresses to an infective mastitis.
What is the treatment for a blocked duct and how can a physiotherapist help?
Treatment of a blocked duct includes frequent feeding to promote breast drainage, heat, rest, gentle massage toward the nipple, compression of the involved area during feeding, positioning of the baby with the tongue and chin pointing toward the blockage to provide maximal clearing, expressing or pumping milk after breast feeding to fully empty the breasts, use of cold after feeding to help decrease swelling and pain, and avoidance of restrictive clothing or pressure on the breast.
Women’s Health physiotherapists can also assist in the treatment of blocked ducts using a modality called therapeutic ultrasound. Ultrasound is a proven, painless technology which is safe for use.
An ultrasound machine is used to break up the clog and results in decreased pain and a return to normal flow of milk. It also helps healing of the tissues and improves blood flow in the area.
What to expect during a physiotherapy session for blocked milk ducts?
Do I need antibiotics?
This is something that needs to be assessed by and discussed with your doctor. Usually It is only infective mastitis in which antibiotics are required. If you have a fever, please ensure that you see a doctor to assess your need for antibiotic treatment.
If you have any questions on therapeutic ultrasound for blocked ducts, please do not hesitate to contact our women’s health physiotherapists who can help with your condition.
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