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Physical Therapy Management of Clogged Milk Ducts

Fullness of the breasts is a normal part of the nursing experience. This can cause some discomfort but it serves as a sign that the breasts need to be emptied either through nursing or pumping. If you are not fully emptying the breast of milk, engorgement can set in leading to tenderness and pain in the breast, and even a fever. These symptoms can be a sign of clogged milk ducts. Clogged milk ducts can be relieved through nursing or pumping. However, if the milk supply continues to build up and the engorgement of the breasts is not relieved, the breast can become even more swollen and painful. If the milk ducts remained clogged, it can form a hard lump in the breast, and in severe cases, can lead to a bacterial infection called mastitis.

What can you do if you have a blocked milk duct?

First, do not stop breast feeding. If you avoid nursing when the breasts are sore or uncomfortable, the risk of clogged milk ducts increases. When you nurse or pump, try to completely empty the breasts. Prior to each nursing session, apply mist heat to the breast in the shower or using a moist heating pad for 10-15 minutes. Attempt to nurse or pump the side with blocked duct first. If you are unable to fully empty the breast of milk with nursing, attempt to empty the breast with pumping. If you are unable to clear the clogged duct on your own, you may benefit from physical therapy to assist you.

What type of treatment does physical therapy have to offer?

It is recommended that a mother seek out treatment from a qualified physical therapist within 24 hours if she is unable to clear the blocked duct herself. Treatment will include moist heat and ultrasound to soften the tissue around the clogged duct. Hands on manual therapy with appropriate essential oils is initiated to unclog the milk duct. The session finishes with manual lymphatic drainage to reduce any localized inflammation in the breast. Patient are recommended to come daily until the blocked ducts are unblocked. Mothers are also educated on self care techniques to avoid future issues with clogged ducts.


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