The ABC’s of Treating Blocked Ducts

Taya Griffin, mother of two breastfed children, is one of Toronto’s most sought-after International Board Certified Lactation Consultants.  She teaches the Prenatal Breastfeeding Classes at Oona and sees mothers at home, on-line, and in-clinic to help them achieve their own unique breastfeeding goals.

If you are a breastfeeding mother and you find yourself wondering what the bruised, tender sensation deep in your breast is you may have a blocked duct.  If you find your baby is becoming fussy at the breast or you feel baby is suddenly not getting enough at the breast you may have a blocked duct.  If you feel your breasts have hard lumps, big or small, that don’t seem to clear in the span of a feed then you may have a blocked duct!

One of the key aspects of my work as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (I.B.C.L.C) in the Toronto area is to examine my client’s breast tissue for any hard and tender areas. While some mothers may be experiencing some of the signs of a blocked duct listed above often mothers do not realize that their breasts have blockages until a breast examination.

A blocked duct is a blockage of one or more of the ducts (or straws!) that carry milk to the nipple. Milk removal has not been optimized due to baby’s poor latch technique, ducts may be obstructed due to this poor latching or mother may have compressed the ducts by wearing too tight clothing. Some mothers may even be prone to persistent blocked ducts due to a higher viscosity or stickiness of their breast milk.

Blocked ducts can cause lowered milk supply in the long run.  As outward pressure is placed on the walls of the ducts the breast gets signals to make less milk.  Along with the discomfort of the blocked duct comes the reality that it may also be leading to lowered milk supply.

The number one key to preventing blocked ducts is to ensure a good latch and good feeding management.  When baby is latched well they actively drain the ducts which means no blockage.

Latching 101

When mother is aiming to take baby onto the breast the nipple should not be the first focus in terms of aim.  Rather mother should aim to get the lower areola in baby’s mouth.   The nipple needs to go deeply into the baby’s mouth extending towards the roof of the mouth where it is protected.   To this end, we want to bring the baby on from underneath the breast so he or she is reaching for it and therefore is taking more of the lower areola in the mouth versus the upper areola. When baby gets a lot of the lower areola in their mouth they are also ensuring a lot of breast tissue / ductular structure goes in baby’s mouth.  This means that this ductular structure is cleared as baby takes good long drinks during a feed.     Looking down at baby, mother should see that the chin is firmly into the breast while a finger can fit between the nose and the breast.   If you feel a poor latch may be the cause of your blocked ducts be sure to work with an IBCLC!

The ABC’s of Treating Blocked Ducts

If you find yourself experiencing blocked ducts you can work through the following trouble-shooting tips.

A – Apply Heat – Applying heat to the breast before a feed can be very helpful to soften the congestion. This will make it easier to move the milk when baby is feeding.

B – Breast Compression – Most important is the use of breast compressions. At the same time that baby is sucking or drinking squeezing the walls of the ducts can improve the flow of the milk.  Moving the hands around can really help to lessen the congestion in the blocks throughout the breast.

C – Cold compress – Sometimes the breast tissue may feel slightly tender after working to remove the blocks. Applying a cool compress can feel wonderful.

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Additional Help for Blocked Ducts

Ultrasound – With stubborn blocked ducts that don’t seem to resolve within 24-48 hours of mother beginning the ABC’s I recommend my clients seek out ultrasound treatment for blocked ducts. Therapeutic ultrasound can help to break down the walls of the ducts and therefore the congestion.  Make sure to feed your baby right after ultrasound treatment.

Lecithin Supplement – Lecithin is a food supplement that seems to help prevent blocked ducts.  It is often given as the first line of defense for blocked ducts but is really only indicated for the mother who has been supported by an LC, has a great latch, and yet gets consistent blocked ducts.

The key to remember is blocked ducts are not normal and it is important to get good help if you are experiencing concerns!

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Taya Griffin (she/her)IBCLC Lactation Consultant (home visits only)

Taya is an Internationally Certified Board Lactation Consultant who is passionate about helping mothers prepare for their breastfeeding journey and supporting them, at home or in the hospital, to reach their individual breastfeeding goals. Taya also co-hosts and facilitates the breastfeeding workshops and clinics with our Oona family. Taya is a graduate of the International...

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