If you have ever had a plugged duct, you know it can be painful and sometimes hard to resolve. When it is not cleared, there is a greater risk for mastitis which of course we want to avoid. Sunflower lecithin is a supplement that can be used to get rid of plugged ducts during breast/chestfeeding.
Lecithin is found in plant and animal sources . It was first discovered in eggs in 1846 and it’s name was influenced by the Greek work lekithos meaning egg yolk.(1) Lecithin is a phospholipid involved in metabolization within a cell, like the gatekeeper helping food and energy to enter a cell and waste to leave the cell. It supports brain, immune and digestive health.
Choline is required in our body to make a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine which acts as a messenger in the autonomic nervous system.(2) It signals muscle contractions, is important for memory, our mood and plays a role in gut health. Lecithin breaks down in the digestive system into choline and fatty acids. Choline is in breast milk and plays a critical role in your baby’s brain development.(4)
As an emulsifier, lecithin works by breaking down fats into smaller molecules and mixing them together with other liquids. Added to salad dressings, it is what keeps the oil and vinegar from separating. It is added to chocolate which is what makes it so smooth and silky.
Soy lecithin and sunflower lecithin are two of the most common emulsifiers added to foods we find at the store as well as sold as supplements. In the USA, most soybeans are genetically modified and can be damaging to the gut.(3)
Sunflower is not a common GMO crop and is considered to be a safer option than soy lecithin. Unlike soy, sunflower oil is not a common allergen. Instead of having to use chemicals to extract the lecithin, sunflower lecithin uses a cold press method not requiring the use of chemicals.
Sunflower lecithin contains:(5)
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Omega-6 fatty acids
- Can help absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K when taken with food.
A plugged duct is the result of milk being stuck in the milk ducts creating a clog. It can feel tender or even painful and you can usually feel a small pea sized lump under the skin where the clog is. It can be harder for your baby to get the milk flowing if it is backed up due to a clog so they may be fussy when nursing on that side.
Sunflower lecithin helps by discouraging the fat molecules in milk to clump together. It makes the milk less sticky so it is able to flow more freely through your milk ducts and get the clog out. Sunflower lecithin works quickly. Most parents see results in 24 - 48 hours. Leaving plugged ducts untreated can lead to mastitis. If you experience recurrent plugged ducts, it is recommended to meet with a skilled IBCLC to get to the root of why you are experiencing recurrent clogs.
Causes of plugged ducts:
- Skipping feedings or going too long between nursing or removing milk
- Improper pump flange fit
- Baby is not able to latch deeply and remove milk efficiently
- Oral restrictions
Working out a plugged duct:
- Very gentle massage massage or vibration around where the plugged duct is including further up the milk ducts behind where the clog is.
- Too much pressure can cause damage so use light touch
- Apply some heat to the area to encourage milk flow
- Apply a castor oil compress
- Homeopathic phytolacca
- High quality sunflower lecithin.
Sunflower lecithin can be beneficial to parents pumping for babies born premature. It helps the milk stick less to the pump tubing.(6)
Foods that contain lecithin:
- Egg yolks
- Brussel sprouts
- Kidney beans
- Liver and other organ meats
- Soy beans (choose non-gmo)
- Wheat germ
Other health benefits:
- Helps lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol
- Good for your heart
- Slows aging
- Improves joint movement
- Healthy skin and beneficial for eczema and acne
- Improves cognitive function(7)
Possible risks and side effects
For short term use, lecithin has been shown to be well tolerated by most people and considered safe while breastfeeding.
High doses of lecithin may elicit symptoms of depression.(8)
Some people report stomach issues including diarrhea, nausea and bloating. Lowering your dosage may eliminate stomach upset.
It is always best to talk with your IBCLC and healthcare provider before taking any supplements. They know your complete health history and can provide you with information that is best suited for your individual needs.