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Clogged Ducts

If you’re a breastfeeding mama, then this post is for you!

Clogged ducts are a common concern for breastfeeding moms that feels like a tender, sore lump or knot in the breast area. When a milk duct does not drain properly, it causes pressure to build up and irritate the breast. Some mothers seem to be more prone to developing them.

What is a clogged duct?

A clogged milk duct occurs when milk cannot adequately flow through the nipple due to a blockage. This can arise for a variety of reasons, including difficulties latching (which affects around one-third of breastfeeding mothers), inflammation, and mamillary dysbiosis. The result is a hard and/or painful lump in the breast. If left untreated, clogged ducts can potentially lead to mastitis which will require a round of antibiotics for the mother.

Breast Anatomy

To understand how these blockages can arise, it is necessary to first learn about the anatomy of the breast. The fatty and fibrous tissue contains 15-20 glands, known as lobes, which contain smaller sacs known as lobules (similar to a cluster of grapes), all of which run into ducts that eventually exit at the nipple. Inflammation can cause the ducts to get obstructed, resulting in the previously mentioned painful hard lump.

It is made up of several tissues including:

  • glandular tissue – includes the breast lobes and breast ducts

  • fibrous or supportive or connective tissue – is the same tissue that ligaments and scar tissue are made of

  • fatty tissue – fills in the spaces between glandular and fibrous tissue and largely determines your breast size

So how do we fix it?

An ultrasound and a pediatric chiropractic adjustment can alleviate these issues.

Therapeutic Ultrasound:

The term "ultrasound" refers to a type of mechanical energy. Sound energy is mechanical vibration at increasing frequencies (or "levels"). An average person can hear at a specific "Hertz" level, and as the mechanical vibrations proceed beyond the human ear, they are referred to be "ultrasound." Ultrasound waves have a frequency range of "1-3 MegaHertz." Ultrasound is like turning up a tremendously loud radio and finally playing music at a level where it is no longer observed. Studies have shown that forms of therapeutic ultrasound can be beneficial in breaking down inflammation when it penetrates the tissue. It can penetrate certain tissues better than others.

According to this diagram, breast tissue has a variety of absorbable tissues, including fascia and scar tissue! Ultrasound has a stimulating effect on the mast cells, platelets, white cells with phagocytic roles, and macrophages. This is not to say that it causes inflammation but it helps to “optimize inflammation.”

That being said, ultrasonography is a fantastic tool to help reduce pain and discomfort caused by clogged ducts! It is critical to have your infant checked for latching challenges in addition to obtaining ultrasound therapies. The most common cause of a clogged duct is an inability to latch securely and support milk letdown. Chiropractic encourages proper biomechanics in babies. We assess jaw mobility, neck tension, and facial muscle strength to promote proper biomechanics and enhance the baby’s ability to latch. A pediatric chiropractor can perform an oral examination to determine latch function. Gentle adjustments and muscle training can be used to address the problem and keep both baby and mother happy!

What remedies can I do at home to help with discomfort?

We recommend utilizing heat prior to nursing in order to promote milk letdown and open up the ducts. After breastfeeding, a cold compress applied to the breast can help reduce pain and inflammation. However, new research in the nursing community suggests using ice over heat in all instances to reduce inflammation during an active case of mastitis.

Are there supplements that can help?

  • Sunflower Lecithin: Sunflower lecithin can help reduce the viscosity of breast milk, making it less likely to clog the ducts. Sunflower lecithin is the second most popular type of commercial lecithin. It is considered a more organic lecithin source than other lecithin forms because it is extracted from sunflowers using cold press or dehydration. We recommend sunflower lecithin as a natural remedy for recurrent clogged ducts.

  • Target b2 Breast and Baby: This probiotic supplement is intended to extend the benefits of nursing while also supporting general newborn immunological health. This Lactobacillus Fermentum strain has been clinically shown to improve breast health and alleviate discomfort associated with mammary dysbiosis. It can be taken starting in the third trimester and throughout your breastfeeding journey.

  • What is mammillary dysbiosis? Mammary dysbiosis is a process whereby the population of potential pathogens increases at the expense of the normal mammary microbiota. This indicates that when the microbiome of the breast is depleted, harmful pathogens can take over. This can occur when antibiotics are administered during pregnancy, as well as the issue of antibiotic resistance. Bacteria commonly present on the breast can induce inflammation of the breast tissue, whereas outside bacteria can trigger the production of toxins that cause discomfort and redness, eventually leading to mastitis.

To learn more about this condition and the benefits of probiotics, check out this article which includes a very detailed explanation:

How can I prevent clogged ducts while breastfeeding?

  • Establish a regular feeding schedule and completely empty each breast (this might mean eight to twelve feedings in a 24-hour period).

  • Establish a proper latch to help empty the breast and avoid injuring the nipple.

  • Breastfeed in various positions to ensure proper emptying of the breast/

  • Wear a nursing bra that fits properly and avoid underwire bras or tight straps from clothing, bags, purses, or infant carriers.

  • For painful, cracked, or bleeding nipples, apply high-quality pure lanolin or lanolin ointment.

In Summary

While a plugged milk duct can be unpleasant, it should not be accompanied by a fever or other symptoms. If you have nausea, yellowish discharge from the nipple, or red streaks on your breast, you may have mastitis (a type of breast infection). If your symptoms do not improve within 12-24 hours, contact your provider right away.

If you have clogged milk ducts that keep coming back, or you’re unable to loosen a clogged duct, it’s time to bring in the experts and call a lactation consultant. The doctors at ANH Wellness are always happy to help in any way that we can. Be sure to give us a call or stop by for a visit for more assistance.

By: Dr. Abby Kellogg

Chiropractor at ANH Wellness

Disclaimer: "The information including but not limited to text, graphics, images, and other material contained on this website is for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment."

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