Let’s talk boobs & blocked ducts

And how Physio can help!

The Anatomy

Your breasts are divided into segments with ducts carrying the breast milk to the nipple. If one of these ducts is not drained properly during a feed, this can lead to a blocked milk duct. There may be many reasons for this, ranging from a seatbelt across your chest compressing the area, a tight bra, or issues with a baby latching and feeding.

A blocked milk duct is not only likely to make your breast hard, painful, red, warm and tender, your baby may also be more fussy than usual when feeding from that side as your milk flow may be slower than usual. Stressful!! Especially when you also have to take care of a newborn.

While most blocked breast ducts clear within 24 to 48 hours, if they don’t, there is an increased risk of mastitis. This is inflammation of breast tissue resulting from a blocked milk duct. Your body responds to this in the same way as it would to any infection, so as well as the local breast symptoms listed above, there may also be additional systemic symptoms including a fever, chills, aching and fatigue. Some of these flu-like symptoms can develop in just hours. About 1 in 5 breastfeeding women develop mastitis and several may have recurrent episodes.

So what can we do to help?

As physiotherapists, we are in a great position to help you with this. There are several things that we can do or advise on that can help to clear the blocked milk duct and the great thing is, when a duct has been cleared, you are unlikely to suffer a problem in the same place again! Treatment usually will include the following:

  • Ultrasound – a conservative treatment which helps to drain the breast of the milk blockage. An ultrasound machine sends sound waves with gentle heat through the breast tissue to the blocked area. This helps to unclog the duct and encourage milk flow through the breast.
  • We would want you to feed your baby or pump soon after the session – ideally within the next 15-20 minutes – this will help to drain the breast and clear the area that had been blocked.
  • Massage – we can teach you to massage your breast to help to clear any areas that might be feeling uncomfortable and show you some exercises that will help.
  • Advice – We’ll give you loads of advice during your session. This will include things such as positions for feeding, using a warm compress before feeding or a cold compress if you’re feeling sore or if the breast is engorged.

With the treatment above, most women see significant reductions in the size of the area of a blocked milk duct within three sessions.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above or would just like a chat, please feel free to get in touch with us, we’re happy to answer any questions you may have. This service is available from our Finchley Rd, Fitzrovia and Parsons Green clinics.

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