Blocked ducts can occur whenever there is excessive compression of the ducts and restriction of milk flow. As the ducts are easily compressed, the compression does not need to be strong at all. The restricted milk can then ‘set’ and block the ducts. Any obstruction to normal breast drainage can be a factor in a blocked duct. This can include bruising or swelling, hurried feeds or poor positioning, poor attachment, nipple soreness, poor bra design and finger compression.
If blocked ducts are not cleared, you may develop mastitis. This is an infection of the breast tissue and a hard lump can be felt. There can be tenderness, swelling and sometimes a red flare over the affected area of the breast. You may feel unwell or have a fever. Cracked nipples may give an inlet for bacteria to enter the breast tissue, although mastitis often occurs with intact nipples. The bacteria are often the same normal bacteria found in the baby’s mouth. Left untreated, mastitis may become a breast abscess.
Managing the Condition
It is almost always OK for the baby to continue feeding, and usually it is beneficial for the mother, because it helps in draining the blocked area.
Some of the things you can do are the following:
- Feed in a variety of positions
- Fully drain the blocked breast at each feed either by feeding or expressing
- Stand in the shower and express the lumpy blocked area and follow up with a feed
However, if you begin to feel unwell and have fevers, this means the blockages are already infected. A blocked duct can become mastitis within hours. If the blockage doesn’t clear within 12 hours, seek help from a medical professional right away. Always get persistent lumps checked to exclude causes other than blocked ducts or mastitis.