One of a nursing mom’s dreaded fears is that pesky clogged duct that won’t clear and the fear of it turning into mastitis quickly creeping in. Or at least that was my fear when I started feeling one coming on. Clogged milk ducts can be extremely painful, and rightfully so, they are located in a very sensitive area that is pretty important to the health of the baby, which adds an extra layer of worry and fear. So let’s talk clogged ducts and why we get them and more importantly, how we get rid of them.
First, we need to define what a clogged milk duct is. According to a study done by Lavigne V. et al. “Blocked ducts can be defined as when ‘the breast has an area of localized milk stasis.’” Milk in the breast is not able to move due to many factors, but one common reason is that there is inflammation in the duct that is limiting the flow and in turn the fatty milk starts to harden. This all really means “ouch” and no fun for mom.
As for reasons why this happens, there are several thoughts about it. In the study they mention that “there are a myriad of causes of blocked ducts, including insufficient emptying of the breast; not positioning the nursing baby properly on the breast; waiting too long between feedings; supplementing nursing with bottle-feeding; use of a pacifier; certain infant behaviors while breastfeeding (tugging, pulling, or twisting of the nipple by the infant); carrying heavy front-holding infant carriers, heavy purses, or diaper bags; and or wearing bras that are too tight.” Unfortunately, there are many causes of clogged ducts, but according to Lavigne “it has been estimated that two-thirds of breastfeeding women experience blocked ducts,” so hopefully you are one of the lucky ones that it never happens to.
Now let’s talk about how to resolve and clear the clogged duct, which is probably why you are here. The good news is that most will clear within 48 hours, but sometimes that seems like an eternity when dealing with the pain. Heat is a major contributor to helping the clogged duct resolve and clear. Try a hot compress or taking a hot shower while massaging your breast and hand expressing. You can also fill the sink or a bowl with hot water and submerge your breast in the hot water. After each of these you will want to nurse or pump to get the milk moving. Nursing is more productive because baby is more efficient than a mechanical pump.
Because the blockage may be hard, vibration may also be used. Using the bottom end of an automatic toothbrush can help break up the blockage. You’ll want to place the toothbrush on and around the clogged duct or sensitive area. Follow up with nursing or pumping.
If nothing seems to be helping and the clog has not been relieved, therapeutic ultrasound may be the next best thing. Therapeutic ultrasound delivers heat deep into the tissue, further than any topical heat can reach. Having heat delivered closer to the clogged duct will be more productive in breaking it up and improve the flow of milk. This treatment usually is very effective with one treatment, but subsequent treatments may be needed. However, therapeutic ultrasound should never be used if there are any signs of infection. This treatment is only done on a clogged duct that has not progressed to mastitis or anyone experiencing any infectious symptoms. Treatments are short, lasting 6-10 minutes, depending on the area, and painless. This is a wonderful option for those clogged ducts that just don't want to clear with home remedies and is very safe for nursing moms and babies. It also won’t hurt supply.
Therapeutic ultrasound, as a safe and effective treatment in the care of clogged milk ducts, can be provided by your local chiropractor or physical therapist. You may want to search your local area for someone who is trained in treating clogged ducts with ultrasound because not everyone is familiar with this type of treatment. If you are in the Bay Area, you are in luck because Dr. Elise at Hamilton Chiropractic in Belmont California offers this unique service as part of her prenatal and pediatric chiropractic care. Call the office to get more info or schedule by visiting www.hamiltonchiros.com. Share this with a friend who may need to know this now or for the future!
Lavigne V, Gleberzon BJ. Ultrasound as a treatment of mammary blocked duct among 25 postpartum lactating women: a retrospective case series. J Chiropr Med. 2012;11(3):170-8.