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The truth is, clogged milk ducts can be painful and uncomfortable. If they're not dealt with promptly, they can lead to a complication called mastitis - localised swelling and inflammation of the breast that's triggered if a blocked duct isn't cleared.
If you're breastfeeding and concerned about blocked milk ducts, try not to worry, there're a few ways to relieve them! This guide is here to help you understand what causes blocked milk ducts and to let you know what you can do about them.
Narrow tubes called mammary ducts carry breast milk from the segmented glands (lobules) in the breasts to the nipple. If one of the glands isn't drained properly as a baby feeds, the milk can't flow through easily, and the ducts can become blocked.
Blocked ducts can happen if:
First and foremost, you must get plenty of rest, eat well, and stay hydrated, even if you're feeling under the weather. A clogged duct is unlikely to fix itself without intervention, but there are a few techniques you can try to unclog milk ducts and relieve the pain they cause.
You can tell that a blocked milk duct is cleared if you can no longer feel a lump, and you may see extra thick breast milk come out while you're pumping or hand-expressing.
If the blockage hasn't cleared after a day or two, or you notice that your symptoms are getting worse, there may be a risk of developing mastitis, so don't hesitate to contact your GP.
The symptoms of mastitis are:
Yes, pumping more often, alongside maintaining your usual breastfeeding schedule, can help relieve clogged ducts. Expressing breast milk encourages it to flow, which can help to remove the blockage.
Yes, ibuprofen or paracetamol are safe to take while breastfeeding and can help to reduce inflammation and manage pain.
It’s always a good idea to check with your GP or midwife before taking any medication while breastfeeding, and it’s also important to note that people who are breastfeeding shouldn’t take aspirin.
If you're struggling to unclog a blocked duct, don’t be tempted to try and pop it because this can lead to a higher risk of infection.
If none of the recommendations we've listed above work for you, you should seek medical help from a doctor or midwife to reduce the risk of the clogged duct leading to mastitis.
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