Plugged Ducts

What are plugged ducts?

Plugged ducts are usually clumps of white blood cells, combined with inflammation and swelling of the surrounding tissues, causing the ducts to become swollen closed or blocked by the plug. When the milk making gland ("lobule" or "alveoli") does not have a way to release the milk though the duct it tends to build up, increasing the pressure and inflammation. Mothers notice specific, isolated areas of pain in their breast and often report the area feels hard or lumpy. Unlike acute mastitis, women do not experience fever or systemic symptoms with plugged ducts. 

What causes plugged ducts?

Plugged ducts sometimes occur when milk is not emptied from the glands in a timely manner. This could be because of improperly fit pump flanges, longer than usual space between feeds, oversupply or because baby did not remove as much milk as usual. Most of the time, this doesn't cause a problem, but occasionally the built up milk creates pressure, swelling and inflammation. Once swelling occurs it may squeeze the ducts and reduce the amount of space for milk to travel. Another common reason for plugged ducts is breast dysbiosis (sometimes called subacute mastitis) which causes clumps of white blood cells and bacterial films to block ducts. Mothers are at higher risk for this if they were exposed to antibiotics in the past year (including delivery). Less common causes include a tight bra that compresses ducts and restricts emptying if worn while pumping or breastfeeding, or, women who sleep on their stomachs leading to compression and inflammation. 

Plugged Duct Protocol:

Step 1: Reduce the swelling and inflammation so that the ducts can dilate and flow freely, allowing the build up of milk to pass.

Step 2: Improve breast microbiome to ward off harmful bacteria and reduce white blood cell clumps.

Step 3: Focus on frequent and thorough breast emptying. 

Repeat throughout the day until you start to feel relief. Monitor for symptoms of mastitis (fever, flu-like symptoms) and discuss with your healthcare provider if you don't feel like you are getting better. Schedule an appointment with us to help troubleshoot the cause of your plugged duct and strategies for preventing recurrence.

Mamas in the north Charlotte and Lake Norman area, we encourage you to setup a home visit so we can help you address these issues. If you are out of our travel area, you can setup a virtual consult with us or google "lactation consultant near me" to find local help.