In the early weeks of breast feeding women sometimes suffer from blockages in the milk ducts which we often call “plugged ducts” .
These are often the result of the breast not being adequately drained of milk, a tight fitting bra or sleeping on the breast which occluded some of the milk ducts.
Poor attachment is also often responsible for blockages.
Sometimes feeds might be interrupted to answer the phone or to attend to a toddler while still trying to breast feed a baby( leading to baby not draining that breast adequately)
Plugged ducts can be extremely painful, And common places may be under the arm, where the bra might be occluding ducts.
The best way to manage these blockages is to avoid them as far as possible , by ensuring the bra fits well, that the feeds are not interrupted, allowing the baby to ” empty” ( it’s never fully empty though ) the breast.
If its too late and blockages have developed its important to drain the breast well at each feed, applying warmth to the breast before a feed and cold compresses after ward.The baby may need to feed more often to help drain the breast and if baby doesn’t drain it , then an electric pump may help.
Sometimes these blockages occur when the baby first sleeps through the night.then your faced with the dilemma of waking the baby for your own comfort or expressing to remove the blockage.
Occasionally some women can be more prone to plugged ducts not because of poor attachment but because their milk is actually so ” thick” that the milk becomes almost solidified. Ive heard of some women who spot little white dots on their nipple, only to wipe it away and find a stringy substance which is their conjealed milk.
Recently I’ve spoken to a client who had such severe plugged ducts that she developed tiny calcifications ( stones) in her milk ducts. After months of persisting through painful blockages , she consulted a lactation consultant and Gp who recommended she try lecithin capsules.
Within days the painful breasts , expressing and ultrasound was over.
The lecithin had succeeded in making her milk less viscous and she experienced relief .
While there is little evidence available to support the use of Lecithin , there is anecdotal evidence that it offers relief for some women, enabling them to continue breast feeding.It should be used in consultation with a health professional.
If plugged ducts are not cleared , some women will go on to develop mastitis.
Mastitis can also be due to infection which enters the breast through a cracked nipple,
Symptoms of mastitis include a reddened area of the breast, which is tender and probably quite lumpy.When women have mastitis as opposed to milk duct blockages they develop a fever, and consequently feel quite unwell,headaches, generalized aching joints( all similar symptoms to the flu) and will usually require antibiotics from their doctor.