During breastfeeding, if the baby is not latched on properly and getting a full feed of breast milk, the mother will be prone to suffer from blocked ducts and mastitis, two painful conditions common during breastfeeding.
“Proper attachment will ensure effective removal of the milk from the breast by the baby. This will prevent a blocked duct and sore nipple from developing," says Ms Cynthia Pang, Assistant Director of Nursing and Senior Lactation Consultant at the Lactation Clinic, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.
Symptoms of mastitis and blocked ducts
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue which commonly occurs in breastfeeding women, though it can also occur in women who are not breastfeeding. Women who are breastfeeding can develop this condition when their nipples become sore and cracked; this allows bacteria from a baby's mouth to enter the breast.
The symptoms of mastitis include:
- Sore nipples – a break in the skin on the nipple and areola may also be present
- Painful, red, inflamed wedge-shaped area on the breast, or the presence of red streaks over the affected area
- Fever of more than 38.5 degrees Celsius
- Chills, body aches and flu-like symptoms
Blocked (plugged) ducts
Unlike mastitis, a blocked duct is not an infection. It is not as painful and is not usually associated with fever. It occurs when there is incomplete drainage of breast milk, causing a temporary lump or mass to form in the breast. “Blocked ducts when not treated promptly can progress to mastitis," says Ms Pang.
The symptoms of blocked ducts include:
- Painful, hard lumpy area in the breast – it may be associated with the presence of a small milk blister (bleb) on the surface of the nipple
- Reduced milk flow from the affected breast
“In the case of blocked ducts, the lumpy area usually does not appear inflamed or reddened. Fever and systemic symptoms such as body ache are generally not present," says Ms Pang.