Milk ducts become clogged if there is milk production, but it is not being dispensed as it should. Generally, clogged milk ducts are common among breastfeeding moms, as well as pregnant women and those who have just stopped breastfeeding. However, clogged milk ducts can also be a warning sign of other breast-related illnesses such as mastitis and mammary duct ectasia. Mastitis is a breast infection which has similar symptoms as a clogged milk duct, only intense and often accompanied by a high fever. In addition to that, mastitis needs to be treated with antibiotics, while clogged milk ducts can be relieved with home remedies such as heat compressions and massage.
Mammary duct ectasia arises when a milk duct widens, resulting in thickened duct walls. The milk duct then fills with a fluid and causes the duct to be clogged. Women with this condition don’t develop symptoms often, but it can easily be distinguished from a clogged milk duct.
Who Is Susceptible To Clogged Milk Ducts?
Women who have started breastfeeding can easily have a clogged milk duct as the first milk produced, i.e. colostrum, is usually thick. Also, women who have just given birth and not breastfeeding could get a clogged milk duct since the milk is not being released. Breastfeeding on a schedule instead of when the baby wants to feed, could also lead to a clogged milk duct as well as poor positioning.
Can Milk Ducts Get Clogged If Not Pregnant?
Not related to pregnancy and nursing mothers, certain diseases could cause a clogged milk duct. Other than mastitis and mammary duct ectasia, women who have breast cancers could also experience a clogged milk duct due to the compression of the tumor on the duct. Prior breast surgery could also cause complications or damage, which could then attribute to a plugged milk duct. Another possible cause is breast scarring, for example, nipple piercing or blocked nipple pore.
A blocked milk duct can be identified by localized pain and a lump/swelling in the affected breast. The swelling is usually due to the presence of an obstruction within or close to the milk duct, which then causes pressure on the milk duct(s), hence resulting in pain. In cases of breastfeeding mothers, the breast will feel tender and warm to touch, and redness but nothing too serious. For mastitis, the same cannot be said as the pain is usually more and so is the tenderness and redness around the breast.
Women suffering from mastitis also exhibit flu-like symptoms including chills and high fever. In extreme cases, there may be discharge from the nipple. For patients with mammary duct ectasia, if they show any signs, they’re likely to exhibit symptoms such as greenish/black/dirty white discharge from the nipple, lump near the clogged duct, tenderness and redness in the nipple, and/or an inverted nipple.
How To Prevent A Plugged Milk Duct?
To prevent plugged milk ducts, mothers need to breastfeed/pump as often as necessary. That is as long as your mammary glands have produced milk and feel the urge to feed, or when the baby demands to feed. Ensure that when the baby breastfeeds, the breast is well-drained and the baby latches well. If you are pumping, then pump as frequent as possible and also ensure you drain the mammary glands well. Similarly, mastitis in nursing mothers can be prevented through feeding or pumping frequently as well as ensuring the baby is well-positioned so as to drain the breast well. For women who develop mastitis from other factors that are not concerned with breastfeeding, they should take better care of their nipples, so as to avoid entry of bacteria into the milk ducts. This especially applies to women with cracked nipples and those with pierced nipples. Additionally, avoid wearing tight bras which compress your breasts. To prevent any further discomfort on the affected breast, you could sleep on the other side, and it’ll also help with not applying too much pressure on that side.
Pregnant women who have started producing milk aren’t the only ones who can get clogged milk ducts. As a matter of fact, clogged milk ducts often occur after giving birth during the early stages of breastfeeding, and during the latter stage when the baby starts weaning. Mothers with milk oversupply or whom their babies are not feeding properly can also develop milk ducts. Other factors which contribute to clogged milk ducts include breast cancer, mastitis, mammary gland ectasia, and cracked nipples or nipple piercings.