If you are a breastfeeding mama and you’ve had a clogged milk duct, you already know that they are no joke and can be extremely painful. Clogged milk ducts are quite common and I have a lot of experience dealing with them through my lactation clients and personally while I was breastfeeding my daughters. I’m going to share all my tips for recognizing a clogged milk duct, dealing with it as quickly as possible and how to make sure you never, ever have a clogged milk duct again!
Clogged Milk Duct Symptoms – How Do You Know You Have A Clogged Milk Duct?
Oh my goodness, you will definitely know you have a clogged milk duct! I woke up one glorious morning, my baby had recently started sleeping through the night and I felt rested, I felt ready to take on the day, I felt…a very painful lump in my breast! My happiness turned to dismay. I knew right away that I had a clogged milk duct.
A clogged milk duct will feel like a tender or painful lump in one area of the breast. It is usually firm to the touch, can vary in size and will NOT be accompanied by a fever. If you have a fever and feel flu-like, you most likely have mastitis and will need to go to your doctor ASAP.
No, you aren’t being punished because your baby finally slept through the night, but it might have something to do with it. Clogged milk ducts are just what the name suggests, they are ducts that didn’t fully empty. When leftover milk sits longer it can thicken and block the duct, resulting in a clogged milk duct.
What Causes A Clogged Milk Duct?
Anything that prevents the breast from completely emptying can cause a clogged milk duct. Infrequent or skipped nursing sessions, a weak or ineffective breast pump, or pressure from a tight bra or clothing can all be factors that can cause a clogged milk duct. The remedy is to get that milk flowing again! This is easier said than done as many clients tell me they are avoiding nursing and pumping because it is too painful. Using Ibuprofen and hot or cold compresses can help alleviate the discomfort of nursing and pumping.
How to Clear a Clogged Milk Duct - Use Heat
I always recommend using heat to help loosen up the clog in the milk duct. Take a warm shower, use a warm compress, or take a nice hot bath (what mom doesn’t need a reason for a long bath). Using heat before and during nursing can be really beneficial. Here is a super cute one.
Nurse and Pump A LOT
You will need to nurse and pump, a lot! Nursing is usually more effective for clearing a clogged milk duct, but if that is not an option for you, pumping is absolutely fine. Try to nurse or pump every 2 hours. Always start on the affected side and make sure to completely empty the breast. If your babe isn’t nursing quite that often switch between nursing and pumping.
Good, Good, Good Vibrations!
Vibration and massage are a great way to help loosen the thick or congealed milk in a clogged milk duct. I often recommend an electric toothbrush or your phone on a vibration setting. There are also massage tools specifically for clogged milk ducts. Really, anything that vibrates is the perfect tool for this. Hold it over the clogged milk duct before and while you are nursing. If you don’t have anything that vibrates, you can massage the area by hand in a downward and forward motion. Use as much pressure as you can handle.
Try Out Some Yoga Positions
Nursing while on all fours, or dangle nursing, is a position that is very effective for alleviating a clogged milk duct. If you do yoga it would resemble the cow pose. If you don’t know what the cow pose is that’s alright! Position baby on their back on the floor. Get on all fours (hands and knees) above baby. Baby will be under you with your breast above baby. This position uses gravity to help fully empty the area where the clogged milk duct is. It sounds awkward, but it really does work!
How Long Will This Take?
A clogged milk duct should clear in 24-48 hours. Clearing the clogged milk duct quickly is important. If left untreated, a clogged milk duct can cause complications. Possible complications include infections (like mastitis), an abscess that may require surgical drainage and a significant decrease in milk production.
What If You Keep Getting Clogged Milk Ducts?
Most women will have one or two clogged milk ducts during their breastfeeding journey. If you have recurrent clogged milk ducts on the same side, I would recommend investigating a little further.
First, check that baby has a good latch and notice how you hold your breast while breastfeeding. One mom I worked with always pushed down with her thumb in the same spot every time she nursed. Recognition of this and focusing on moving her hand positioning while nursing helped alleviate her persistent issue with clogged milk ducts.
Check your breast pump!
A weak breast pump is not only slow and frustrating, but it could be causing your clogged milk ducts. Things to troubleshoot on the pump would be to check the flanges (the part that fits over your nipple) and valves. Check that the flange fits you properly (not too big or too small). When checking the membranes or valves see if they show any wear or thinning. Valves tend to wear out quickly with frequent use and this can cause reduced suction and strength of your pump. A weak pump will not completely empty your breast and can cause a clogged milk duct. Replacement valves and membranes can be bought and changed easily.
If you can’t find a reason for your persistent clogged milk ducts I would suggest going to see your physician. There could be an anatomical issue that is preventing a portion of the breast from emptying such as a cyst, lesion or scar tissue. There are also medications that can be prescribed in extreme circumstances to help with persistent clogged milk ducts.
I hope these tips help you avoid a clogged milk duct or help alleviate one if you are currently battling one. Clogged milk ducts are definitely a nuisance, but with these tricks you should be back to normal very quickly. Take care Mamas!
About the Author: Robin Forslund is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counsellor and runs The Mama Coach in Edmonton, Alberta.