A plugged duct occurs when the milk passageways in the breast become blocked. Plugged ducts are a common problem associated with breastfeeding. They happen when the milk is not drained fully from the breast or when there is too much pressure inside the breast. Milk gets backed up inside the duct and the milk may become thick and not flow properly. It may feel like there is a tender lump in the breast which can be painful and uncomfortable for a new mother.
A plugged duct can be caused by:
- Failure to empty the breast during a feeding
- Baby not sucking well or having trouble feeding
- Skipped feeding or waiting too long in between feedings
- Producing too much milk
- An ineffective breast pump
- Abruptly weaning the baby off breast-feeding
- Sleeping on the stomach
- Tight fitting bras
- Anything else that puts pressure on the breast for an extended period of time, for example bunched clothing, a backpack, or a seat belt.
What is Lecithin?
If you are getting plugged ducts on a regular basis (recurrent plugged ducts), your doctor may recommend that you increase your intake of a substance called lecithin. Lecithin is a natural substance that is found in food. It’s also naturally found in:
- Whole grains
- Meat (especially liver)
- Milk (including breast milk)
You may also see lecithin as an additive to many common foods like chocolate, salad dressing, and baked goods. It is a substance that helps keep fats and oils suspension (an emulsifier). Lecithin is a phospholipid, which has both hydrophobic (affinity for fats and oils) and hydrophilic (affinity for water) elements. It’s thought to help prevent the breast ducts from getting plugged by increasing the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk and decreasing its stickiness.
How much Lecithin should I take?
Lecithin is found in many of the foods we eat like organ meats, red meats, and eggs. These foods contain the most concentrated source of dietary lecithin, but they are also high in saturated fats and cholesterol. In order to help prevent cardiovascular disease and obesity, many women today are leaning toward a low cholesterol, low calorie diet that is lower in lecithin.
Fortunately, there are several lecithin supplements available at health, drug, vitamin stores, and online. As there is no recommended daily allowance for lecithin, there is no established dosing for lecithin supplements. One suggested dose is 1,200 milligrams, 3-4 times daily to help prevent recurrent plugged ducts. After a week or two with no blockage, mom can reduce the dosage by one capsule. If there is no blockage within another two weeks she can reduce it again by one. Mom may continue taking 1-2 capsules per day if stopping Lecithin leads to additional plugged ducts.
What are the benefits?
Lecithin is suggested as one way to help prevent plugged ducts and any resulting complications. Plugged ducts can be painful and uncomfortable for both mother and baby. Your baby might become fussy if the milk is coming out slower than usual.
Most cases of plugged ducts will resolve on their own within a day or two. However, any time a woman has a plugged duct, she is at risk of developing an infection of the breast (mastitis). If you have flu-like symptoms, like a fever and chills and a breast lump that is warm and red, see your doctor right away. You will need to take antibiotics to clear the infection. If not treated, mastitis may lead to a breast abscess. An abscess is much more painful and will have to be drained immediately by your doctor.
If you are prone to plugged ducts, talk to your doctor about using lecithin supplements. A lactation consultant can also help give you tips about breast-feeding your baby. Other tips for preventing plugged ducts include:
- Allowing you baby to fully drain the milk from one breast before switching to the other breast
- Making sure your baby latches on correctly during feedings
- Changing up the position you breast-feed in each time
- Eating a diet low in saturated fats
- Drinking lots of water
- Wearing a supportive, well-fitting bra