Women who are breastfeeding are the most common victims of blocked milk ducts. When milk fails to drain properly through a milk duct, the duct becomes inflamed, according to Women’s Health. This inflammation can spread to neighboring tissues, resulting in a tender lump or hard area on the breast. A blocked milk duct can occur in the nipple duct where it may appear as a small white “blister” or it can occur deeper in the breast tissue. There are multiple causes of blocked milk ducts.
There are a number of feeding issues that contribute to the formation of a blocked milk duct. Skipped or infrequent feedings can result in engorgement and lead to a plugged duct. Milk can clog a duct if your breast is not emptied during a feeding due to poor feeding or because the baby did not have enough time to do so, explains Kaiser Permanante. Failing to breastfeed on both breasts during a feeding is a risk factor for plugged ducts.
Positioning your baby properly on the breast is essential to successful breastfeeding and is another factor in preventing a clogged milk duct. Proper positioning helps the baby to latch on and suckle effectively, emptying out the breast completely. The United States Department of Agriculture Women, Infants and Children program suggests that remembering the phrase “chest to chest, chin to breast” may help mothers remember how to properly position their infants on the breasts. If you are having difficulty positioning your child, ask your health care provider or a lactation consultant for guidance.
Too much pressure on the breast can cause a blockage of the milk duct. Too much pressure on the breast tissue is often the result of wearing tight clothing, particularly bras that are too constrictive or have underwire. Sleeping in positions that put weight on your breasts can also affect breast health.
If you are experiencing a blocked milk duct, you should take steps to alleviate the blockage as soon as possible in order to prevent a more serious condition known as mastitis. Mastitis is a painful infection of the breast tissue that may be accompanied by a fever, a yellow discharge from the nipple and nausea or vomiting. Breasts may feel hot and appear pink or have red streaking. Once mastitis develops, treatment with antibiotics may be required.
A blocked milk duct does not have to lead to mastitis. If you suspect that you have a plugged duct, one of the best things you can do is breastfeed often on the affected breast, and empty the breast as much as possible. Position your child so that his chin is pointing toward the blocked duct; this will encourage milk to come from this area first. Massaging the sore or lumpy area with your fingers, working from just above the obstruction toward the nipple, may also facilitate better milk flow and loosen the blockage. Warm compresses can ease discomfort and encourage better circulation. Wear a supportive, but not constrictive, bra and get some extra rest.