Therapeutic Ultrasound For Blocked Ducts
Breastfeeding can be a wonderful and challenging experience all at the same time. We are here to support you on your breastfeeding journey!
Whether you are a new or seasoned breastfeeding mama, painful blockages can develop in the breast tissue which can be distressing and disrupt your ability to effectively nurse.
Blocked milk ducts can be caused by a number of factors which can lead the surrounding tissue to become swollen and inflamed. Blocked ducts, if not treated early can lead to an infection of breast tissue, or painful mastitis.
Breast milk is produced by lactating mothers and transported through a complex network of milk ducts to the nipple, where the baby is latched and sucking to receive the flow.
However, sometimes one or more ducts can become clogged leading to a blockage and disrupted flow of milk. The area can develop a tender lump or become firm and inflamed leading to poor drainage, decreased flow, a frustrated baby, and pain!
Blocked ducts can occur for many reasons such as:
- Nursing positions and posture
- Mechanical factors (eg. poor fitting bra)
- Inefficient milk removal
- Stress or fatigue
- Breast engorgement
- Missed feeds
- Latch issues
- And more
It’s important to examine all the factors especially if blocked ducts are recurring.
Signs and symptoms of a blocked duct include:
- A lump in the breast tissue that feels harder than the tissue around it – you will be able to palpate (feel) the borders of the lump
- It may feel tender to touch or tender without touch
- You may feel hot in the area and notice redness or swelling in the area
- You may notice it feels a little less lumpy and less tender after feeding or pumping
- You may notice a milk bleb (which is a little white coloured plug) at the opening of your nipple
- You may notice the blockage moves over time
Here are some strategies to try:
- Contact a lactation consultant as they are the experts in all things breastfeeding. They will help you get to the bottom your blocked duct problem.
- Experiment with changing nursing positions (of both you and baby) to ensure complete emptying of your breasts
- As you nurse, use your hand to gently stroke your breast tissue in all areas towards the nipple – focusing on the area with the plug. You can also do this before or after feeding your baby
- Stay hydrated and well nourished with nutrient dense foods
- Get as much sleep as possible (hard to do, we know!)
- Stress can cause our bodies to do wacky things and make us prone to dysfunction and illness. Choose one practice to do daily to decrease your stress.
- Use moist heat over the duct before and/or during nursing
- Use the dull end of an electric toothbrush to apply some gentle vibration and on and around the blockage
- An osteopath, chiropractor, or physiotherapist, or oral myofunctional therapist, may be able to help your baby with muscle imbalances, tension, or the biomechanics affecting her latch
If a blocked duct hasn’t cleared on its own or with these strategies within 24-48 hours, come see us as soon as possible to prevent the onset of mastitis.
Many moms are surprised to hear that physiotherapists can treat blocked ducts (especially persistent or recurrent blockages) very effectively using a modality called therapeutic ultrasound.
If you’ve had physiotherapy for a sports injury or after a car accident, you may have received ultrasound in the past. We can use that same modality, along with other manual and positioning techniques, to help break up blockages and encourage normal flow of milk.
Ultrasound is a proven, painless technology which has been used by physiotherapists for decades. It is safe and effective. We also consult regularly with lactation consultants and work with them to ensure we are providing the best holistic breast care for our nursing moms.
At The Mama’s Physio, you can come to see us at our London office, or we may also be able to come to your home.
Ultrasound for blocked ducts helps unclog and drain the breast of the milk blockage. It is a machine which generates sound waves and sends them rippling through the breast tissue along with some gentle heat.
We use Canadian breastfeeding guru, Dr. Jack Newman’s, protocol for therapeutic ultrasound – and in the majority of cases, only one treatment is required.
Sometimes, two treatment sessions are required to get full results. Treatment over two consecutive days has been shown to prevent the blockages from recurring in the same duct.
If there is no change after a maximum of three ultrasound treatments, we will refer you back to your lactation consultant or doctor for further investigation.
Immediately after the treatment, you will need to feed your baby or pump to facilitate flow and drainage through the breast.
Other than some warmth, you shouldn’t feel or hear anything. But it’s still working! Therapeutic ultrasound is effective because it can penetrate past the surface of the breast to directly break up blockages by using the power of sound waves. And it’s painless.
After the treatment (usually no longer than 5-10 minutes per blockage) you should feel a softening of your breast, less tenderness, better flow, decreased inflammation and redness, and elimination of a lump.
You should notice these effects the same day as the treatment and into the following day.
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue. It can develop rather quickly if milk is not cleared effectively from the breast. Signs and symptoms include:
- breast tissue swelling, warmth, redness
- inflammation, thickening tissue, or a lump
- breast tenderness and pain
Before receiving therapeutic ultrasound, it is important to ensure that you have not developed mastitis as we cannot ultrasound over infected tissue.
Please speak with your doctor and/or lactation consultant and seek treatment (usually a course of antibiotics) to resolve the infection.