More than 200,000 cases of blocked milk ducts occur annually in nursing mothers in the U.S., according to WebMD.
New mothers already put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect caregivers for their infants. It’s hard to accept when their natural milk flow is a problem. Even if a new mom is lucky to have an experienced mother or lactating specialist to turn to, the unexpected stress of nursing problems can be devastating.
What is a blocked milk duct?
A nursing mother with a tender, small lump on her breast could have a blocked milk duct, caused when there is obstructed milk flow and the mother is not able to empty the breast completely or regularly. One way mothers avoid such a blockage is to use a breast pump when they are not able to nurse their babies right away.
It is good to check whether the spray of milk is evenly flowing while under the shower in warm water. If one side is not spraying a milk stream, or if a hard knot appears on that side, massage that area. Lactation consultants often suggest that mothers nurse their babies on that side first, because a hungry baby will suck harder at first and can express that area to relieve the problem quickly.
How does a blockage occur?
There are a few common causes of blockage.
• Thrush fungal infections can cause pain in a baby’s mouth, preventing the baby from sucking effectively. The infection can cause the mother’s nipples to crack, a painful condition.
• Compression on the breast (that is, sleeping in a tight-fitting bra or top) can obstruct the milk flow.
• Stress or a major change in routine can cause a blockage – such as adding solids to a baby’s diet, the mother returning to work or the baby experiencing a growth spurt. If the baby starts to sleep longer or refuses to nurse, the mother should start pumping right away.
If a nursing mother is unable to unblock the duct, it could turn into an infection called mastitis. If such an infection occurs, a doctor may prescribe an antibiotic that is not harmful to a nursing baby.
How are blocked milk ducts treated?
There is good news. To avoid the stress of undergoing extreme treatments like surgery to relieve stubborn blocked milk ducts, PhysioFit created a program specifically designed to address the problem. At present, we offer the only ultrasound therapy and massage of its kind in the area. The problem can often be solved in just one visit.
PhysioFit’s specialized physical therapy ultrasound is safe for nursing mothers. With deep heat from this type of ultrasound treatment and professional physical therapy breast massage, we can break up the hardened milk in blocked ducts.
After the treatment, mothers are advised to return home and nurse their baby or use a breast pump. Relief is usually immediate, or within the first few pumping and/or breastfeeding sessions. The treatment is often partially or fully covered by medical insurance, depending on the plan.
Once a nursing mother has a solution to her pain at hand, she can relax and enjoy breastfeeding.
One nursing mother we treated said that approximately two months after she delivered her baby, she developed plugged ducts from breastfeeding.
“As a new mom, I had spoken with several moms who had varying levels of challenges trying to resolve them,” she said. “After scouring the internet and trying everything to resolve the plugs, my midwife/physician referred me to PhysioFit for plugged-duct physical therapy. I had never considered physical therapy as being a possible solution, but through their combination of massage and ultrasound treatment, we were able to get the ducts unplugged without needing surgery.”
The mother added that what was encouraging about the ultrasound therapy was that it was “completely noninvasive, and the technicians made me feel very comfortable in the sessions. There was no downtime, or healing time, so I could still go about my life, nursing my baby, going to work, etc.”
Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness, 1000 Fremont Ave., Los Altos. For more information, call 887-6046 or visit physiofitpt.com.