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Clogged Milk Ducts: Symptoms & Treatment
When you are a breastfeeding mama, you might have to deal with clogged milk ducts, which is a common occurrence. A clogged milk duct is often the result of a change in the needs of your baby. It can also be caused by stress or going through a change in routine.
A clogged milk duct happens in an area of the breast where milk flow is blocked. Clogged milk ducts appear when you take a long time to empty a breast or you weren’t able to empty the breast properly.
Breastfeeding through a clogged duct can be painful, but it can be the best way to relieve the pressure and unclog the milk duct.
What does a clogged milk duct feel like?
A clogged milk duct is a lump on your breast that will feel hard, tender, and sore/painful. The size could vary from very small, like the size of a pea, up to the size of a peach.
Keep an eye out if there is redness and you feel that it is really painful because it can turn into an infection called mastitis. This will also lead to fever, chills, and body aches and you would need to contact your doctor. Antibiotics could also be needed.
Clogged Milk Duct Symptoms
Feel full after a feeding –
When you have a clogged milk duct, even after a feeding, you could still feel full due to built up milk that is behind the clog. Nursing is painful but you would still need to continue since the last thing you want to do is not empty the breast.
Reduced milk flow –
You will usually see there is a lesser amount or flow of milk coming out on that side that has the clogged milk duct because of the poor drainage.
Sometimes, you can see a small whitish-yellow milk plug at the nipple.
How long do clogged milk ducts last?
A clogged milk duct will continue to persist until you unclog it so it is important to treat it properly, persistently, and right away. It is definitely not something to take lightly.
Clogged milk duct treatment
Clogged duct breastfeeding might sound unappealing to you but it is essential to clear up the condition. Nurse frequently every 2 to 3 hours and make sure you don’t miss any feedings.
Having your baby feed or nurse is also better than manually or hand expressing since they can trigger a let-down which will encourage milk flow and help clear the duct. If it’s too painful, you can let baby latch on the unaffected side first to trigger a let-down and then switch to the affected side.
It is important to also make sure that your baby is deeply latched. If your baby doesn’t completely drain the affected breast, pump the milk out to prevent further clogging up the milk ducts. Don’t forget to also pump out the other breast as often as if you were nursing with it.
When nursing, keep baby’s chin on the plug (if possible) since this will massage that lump and encourage the milk to flow. You may need to try various positions that will be comfortable for you and that would allow the baby to latch on.
Try the football hold or side lying. You can also massage the lump yourself while the baby feeds.
Another feeding position you can try is a dangle feed wherein you place the baby on the bed and go on all fours, hovering over them and dangling your breast for your baby to feed. In this way, not only will your baby’s sucking help in releasing the milk, but gravity can also do its job and boost milk movement.
If your baby isn’t nursing well or if it’s too difficult, pump the affected breast after nursing for around 10 to 15 minutes.
Getting some rest and boost your immune system –
Like any infection or illness, you would need to make sure you get as much rest as you can and recuperate. Doing this will also boost your immune system and you will be able to heal faster.
Vitamin C is also important for your immune system so you can try taking some. Of course, getting enough liquids is always vital. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for help from your partner or family member if you need that free time to rest up.
Ice and moist heat –
Ice is beneficial to help reduce the swelling or inflammation. Try icing for 10 minutes in between your feedings. This will also help relieve the pain and discomfort.
When it comes to moist heat, try putting a warm compress on your affected breast before a nursing session. Of course, make sure that it isn’t too hot to prevent burning yourself.
If you’re a mom on the go, there are breastfeeding relief packs that you can also use that are more convenient and won’t get your clothes wet but still help provide that moist heat to relieve and prevent clogged milk ducts.
You can also try to soak your breast in a bowl of warm water, take a hot shower or relax in an Epsom salt bath. This warmth will help with your milk flow and movement.
After applying the heat, you can then massage the breast in the sore area before you nurse. Use your thumb to massage from behind the plug towards the nipple. Concentrate on the lump or the hard area.
You can also clear a path by massaging from the front of the plug towards the nipple. Continue massaging until you can feel relief. You can also take a hot shower and use your hand to express or massage the breast and promote the plug to clear.
Don’t be alarmed if you see either a string-like plug, a sand-like grain, or just your milk shooting out. These are all normal ways that the clog will clear out.
Related: How To Choose The Best Breast Pump
Before nursing and after applying heat to your breast, you can try using vibration to stimulate milk flow. Use a handheld massager or you can substitute with an electric toothbrush and apply on the area and loosen up the clog.
Don’t wear tight clothes/bras –
Make sure there is no extra pressure on your breast during this time especially when you are feeling uncomfortable. Wear loose clothes and a bra that fits properly so that your breast don’t feel restricted and milk can flow easily.
Try a nursing bra without an underwire like this one or wearing no bra if possible so that your breast won’t get pressed for a long time.
Lavender tea tincture –
This solution can be prepared by using four lavender tea bags soaked in 2 cups hot water for around 15 minutes. You can then wet a paper towel or a washcloth then apply on the breast. You can let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
In order to counter pain and inflammation, you can take medicine like ibuprofen. You would need to consult your doctor first before taking any meds to treat clogged milk ducts.
Sunflower lecithin –
This supplement can help thin out your milk and prevent your milk from getting sticky and clog up your milk ducts.
Pineapple juice –
Drinking 1 glass of pineapple juice daily is beneficial since it contains bromelain, which reduces inflammation and can help in preventing clogged milk ducts.
Other clogged milk duct treatments to try:
- Acupressure/ Acupuncture
- Phytolacca – good for the lymph system and combats infection and inflammation.
- Raw garlic – this can help relieve the pain as well as prevent mastitis.
- Probiotics – strains like L.fermentum and L.salivarius can help reduce bacteria in mom’s breastmilk
- Potatoes – this may be a bit strange but it works. Put organic sliced potatoes on the breast and cover with a cloth. Leave for 1 hour and you can also replace the potatoes if you need to.
- Castor oil compresses – these are good for removing persistent plugs as well as relieve pain.
- Olive oil – Soak a cotton ball with warm olive oil and place on the nipple for 5 minutes to soften the plug before trying to remove it.
- Homeopathic remedies – you can visit a homeopathic clinic to give you alternatives for getting clogged milk ducts using homeopathic medicine.
In order to prevent future clogged milk ducts from happening, it is best to take precautions to ensure that you don’t get engorged and keep pressure off your breasts.
You can also consult your doctor if you have been having clogged milk ducts repeatedly since it could also be due to your baby having a problem with the latch or nursing position.
Having a clogged milk duct is an uncomfortable situation that mamas could go through but luckily, with the right steps and techniques, it can be treated and cleared in no time.
What has worked for you when clearing up a clogged milk duct?