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If you're breastfeeding and concerned about blocked milk ducts, try not to worry. This guide is here to help you understand what causes clogged 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 breastfeeds, the breast milk can't flow through easily, and the ducts can become blocked.
Your breast milk ducts may become blocked if your:
The truth is, clogged milk ducts can be painful and uncomfortable, and if they're not dealt with promptly, they can lead to a complication called mastitis. This is localized swelling and inflammation of the breast.
There are a few techniques you can try to unclog milk ducts and relieve the pain they cause. These include:
You can tell that a blocked milk duct is cleared if you can no longer feel a lump. You may also see extra thick breast milk come out while you're pumping or hand-expressing.
The blockage in your milk duct should clear after a day or two of treatment. However, if you notice that your symptoms are getting worse and the clog isn't clearing, there may be a risk of developing mastitis.
The symptoms of mastitis are:
Don't hesitate to seek medical support if you suspect you have mastitis.
Expressing breast milk encourages it to flow, which can help to remove the blockage and relieve any discomfort. So yes, pumping more often while maintaining your usual breastfeeding schedule can help relieve clogged ducts.
Yes, ibuprofen or acetaminophen are safe to take if you're breastfeeding. It's always a good idea to check with your doctor before taking any medication while breastfeeding. 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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