Milk ducts are an important connecting link between the alveoli, where the milk is produced to the nipples, where the breastfeeding is done. Normally the milk ducts are not felt but in some conditions, woman may be able to feel the milk ducts.
Can You Feel Your Milk Ducts?
The milk-producing glands, also known as mammary glands are connected to the nipples through ducts and these ducts are known as milk ducts. The alveoli are the main region associated with the production of milk and release of oxytocin by the pituitary gland, triggers the supply of milk from the alveoli to the nipples through lactiferous ducts due to muscle contraction. The milk ducts can be felt during the synthesis and transport of the milk. This happens during the period of breastfeeding where the milk is produced and transported under the hormonal control for feeding the baby.
Generally, the milk ducts can be felt in the following two conditions:
Breast Engorgement: This is the condition developed during first few weeks of the breastfeeding, even when all the breastfeed rules are strictly followed. It is due to the fact that the body is initiating the process of identifying the amount of milk required by the baby. In this process, body secretes more milk and whole milk is not used by the baby. This led to storage of excess milk leading to compression on the breast and the breast becomes tender and swollen. At this stage, the milk duct can be felt.
However, this condition subsides after the body is adjusted to the quantity of milk required. The engorgement can also occur at a later stage of breastfeeding due to various reasons such as missed feeding or change of feeding schedule. This condition usually develops in both the breasts.
Clogged Lactiferous Ducts: Unlike breast engorgement where the breast is tender due to imbalance between the synthesis and requirement, tenderness in breast are also due to the clothing of the milk carrying ducts. This condition may occur in single breast or on either breasts or various parts in a single breast. Thus, when the ducts are clogged, there is an insufficient drainage of the milk leading to swollen breast. At this stage, the milk ducts can be felt by the patient. If the clogged duct condition is not managed quickly, this may lead to mastitis.
Structure Of Breasts
Breasts are the modified sweat glands and are the accessory organs in the female reproductive system. It is used to provide milk to the infant through breastfeeding. The milk is essential for the newborn as it contains immune factors, growth factors and nutritional factors. Breasts are predominantly in circular shape and are divided in to 4 quadrants. The glandular tissue combined to form lobules and the lobules forms the alveoli. These alveoli are responsible for the production, storage and release of the milk. Lactocytes are present in the alveoli, which secretes milk. Each group of epithelial cells is surrounded by the myoepithelial cells, which contracts and squeeze milk into ducts.
The alveoli are supplied by the blood capillaries that transport nutrients, hormones and materials for milk synthesis.
Milk ducts are the primary tubes which are responsible for the transport of milk from the lobules to the nipples. The lactogenesis and transport of the milk is done through the hormonal trigger. The muscle contraction is a prerequisite for the flow of milk through milk ducts. This contraction is done by the action of oxytocin, also known as milk-let-down hormone. Columnar epithelium and myoepithelial cells constitute the structure of ducts. In order to prevent the bacterial infection inside the ducts of a non-lactating woman, the ducts are closed by a keratin plug. It is due to the presence of columnar epithelium that the breasts are able to maintain the milk production and milk stasis.
Milk ducts carries the milk from the alveoli to the nipples under the presence of hormones. Milk duct can be felt in the presence of conditions such as the breast engorgement and clogged milk ducts.