About 4.5% of moms get clogged milk duct at some point of their breastfeeding journey. Learn about what it is and get natural remedies for a clogged milk duct.
Clogged milk ducts are common frustration for breastfeeding mamas. Once you have established your breastfeeding relationship with your baby and start thinking that everything is settled now, you hit with yet another discomfort of being a breastfeeding mom. A painful lump in your breast….ouch!! And you have second thought about continuing your breastfeeding journey. But don’t quit just yet. There is an end to it.
I have been through it while I was breastfeeding my sons and I’ve done lots of research on how to identify and treat them naturally so you don’t have to. I’m going to share my tips for recognizing and dealing with a clogged milk duct naturally and make sure you never, ever have clogged milk duct again!!
Here’s what we are going to cover in this article,
- What is a clogged milk duct?
- What causes it?
- What are the symptoms of a clogged milk duct?
- Plus, Natural remedies for a clogged milk duct
What is Clogged Milk Duct?
Milk ducts are small tubes (branches) that carry your milk from where it is made to your nipples where baby feeds. When your baby latches properly and starts working hard, his/her strong suctioning draws milk along these ducts.
Clogged milk duct, also called plugged milk duct, blocks and prevents the flow of breast milk causing a build-up in the milk duct of the breast.
Clogged milk duct appears as a tender lump on your breast and they can cause swelling, redness and pain at the affected area of the breast. You may notice a painful small white dot on your nipple (milk bleb).
What Causes a Clogged Milk Duct?
Anything that obstructs the flow of milk through your breast causes a clogged milk duct. If not treated quickly, it can lead to inflammation, condition known as mastitis.
It is hard to know exact cause of clogged milk duct, but here’re possible culprits,
If your baby is not latching onto your breast properly, he may not be able to draw enough breast milk that you are making. As a result, residual milk creates a blockage.
Breast engorgement occurs when your body is producing more milk then your baby is actually consuming. Breast milk can build up in your breast and clog your milk duct if you,
- Wait too long between feeding
- Irregular feeding schedule
- Miss feeding
- Over abundant milk supply
- Supplement your baby with formula
- Choose not to breast feed or stop breastfeeding
- Baby starts sleeping through night
Like poor latch, weak pump unable to drain breast fully, can cause plugged duct.
Blebs or milk blister in your nipple can block the opening of your milk ducts and cause milk back up.
Pressure on your Breast:
Excessive pressure on your breast from tight bra, tight clothing, heavy diaper bag across your chest, heavy exercise or lying on your breast can cause a clogged milk duct.
Fatigue and stress:
Keeping up with baby specially during early months can be stressful and tiring. Too much stress can slow down the production of hormone oxytocin, which help release milk from your breast. Lack of rest and not drinking enough liquid can also put you at greater risk of developing clogged milk duct. So, take it easy, let others help out and sleep when your baby is sleeping.
What are the Symptoms of a Clogged Milk Duct?
Trust me, you will know when you have a milk duct that is clogged. It is that painful. When I had one, it felt like as if some tiny creature has started residing in my breast.
Whether you’re in the early stage of breastfeeding or you have been doing it for a while, you can experience a clogged milk duct when there is obstruction in breast milk drainage from your breast.
The signs of a plugged duct may be gradual. It may appear as a tender lump, that is the size of pea or peach. Or it may appear with a milk bleb (white spot) on nipple. Mothers may find area of breast firm and bumpy. It may feel sensitive and hurt to touch. Beside causing pain and suffering for mom, it may make baby cry when feeds on affected breast since milk flow from affected breast may be reduced. You may also feel some of the flowing symptoms,
- Swelling and redness
- Heavy breast
- Warm to touch (affected area)
- Itchiness in the breast
Natural Remedies for Clogged Milk Duct
Here’s what you can,
Feed, feed and feed
Yes, you heard me right. Frequent feeding on affected breast – making sure that its completely drained before offering other breast to your baby – is the fastest way of clearing clogged milk duct.
If your baby is not doing a good job of draining an affected breast completely, pump your milk out until the milk comes out in slow drips. Also, don’t overdo the pumping, as too much pumping will encourage overproduction.
Who doesn’t like warm shower, specially when you are engorged? It a great relief method. Stand under a warm shower stream and let the water hit the affected breast. Avoid direct shower spray on your affected breast, as it causes over stimulation. Instead, bring your hair or cloth over to your affected breast (not covering your breast) and let shower water go through the hair or cloth to your breast.
Another trick that my mom tought me was to comb hair over breast, first unaffected area and then comb affected area gently about 5-7 times.
Soak breasts in large bowl filled with 4 liters of hot water mixed with 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt. Submerge your breast for about 10 minutes before feeding. You can message the affected area towards the nipple white it is soaking. Don’t forget to wash your breast with water before feeding, as you don’t want to feed your baby salty milk.
A warm compress before feeding can give you relief. You can use warm cloth or heating pad to an affected area. You can also use disposable diaper as a compress instead of warm cloth, as it holds heat longer.
Tip: It gives you instant relief and may tempt you to do it more often between feeding, as I did, when I had a clogged milk duct. I felt more engorged then ever because of overuse. So, one mama to another, don’t overdo it. This can increase swelling and inflammation. If you really need to use warm compress to help with milk flow, limit to a few minutes only.
Vibration and message are a great way to help loosen the hard lump in an affected breast. There are also message tools specially for clogged duct- LaVie Lactation massager. Electric toothbrush works just fine. Use electric brush over the clogged milk duct before and while feeding helps a lot.
Messaging the tender breast firmly (but not so firmly that hurts) before and while nursing can improve milk drainage and helps with pain relief. Start message at the nipple and move towards the tender spot and then message the lump kneading motion.
Research study published in J Hum Lact. 2016 showed significant improvement in pain after initiating therapeutic breast message in breastfeeding moms dealing with issues like engorgement and plugged milk ducts.
Visit lactation consultant to learn how to use therapeutic breast message.
Avoid tight cloths
Avoid shirt or bra that is too tight. Sometimes external pressure aggravates clogged ducts. Make sure to stay away from underwire bra when you are breastfeeding.
Change breastfeeding position
Adjusting you and your baby into new breastfeeding positions (from cradle to football) can relive a pressure from affected area. It also helps stimulate all milk ducts equally.
Depending on where the clogged duct is, position your baby in way that his nose and chin are pointed towards the lump.
On all four
Dangle nursing or nursing on all fours is very effective in easing a clogged milk duct. Lay baby on his/her back on the floor and get on your two hand and on your knees above baby. This position uses gravity to help dislodge the blocked duct.
How Long will it Take to Clear?
A should clear in 24-28 hours if treated properly. Clearing a clogged milk duct quickly is important to avoid further complication. Worst one is mastitis, an infection, that may require surgical drainage and cause a significant reduction in your milk production.
How to Prevent a Clogged Milk Duct?
Clogged ducts are painful and having to deal with it multiple time during your breastfeeding journey is even more painful. Most preventive strategies from experts are the same as the treatment, so incorporate them into your routine to stay away from clogged milk duct.
- Breastfeed regularly and do not let yourself engorged.
- Keep pressure off of your breast. Avoid tight, underwire bra.
- Change nursing position to allow baby to drain milk from all areas equally.
- Avoid saturated fat in your diet.
- Talk to your health care professional about Lecithin supplement (Sunflower lecithin). Lecithin is a healthy nutritional supplement that seems to help some mothers prevent blocked milk duct and is safe to take while you’re breastfeeding. The Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation recommend 1,200 mg of lecithin (4 times a day) to mothers who experience recurrent clogged milk ducts as a preventative measure.
- Keep yourself stress free
- Drink lots of fluids
When to see a Doctor for a Clogged Duct?
Clogged duct should be treated quickly to avoid more serious complication. You should contact your health care professional if,
- The lump does not go away within three days.
- Flu-like symptoms develops
- The area is red, and it increases in size.
Most mama who’s suffered from a clogged milk duct would agree that it hurts like a hell. But good news is, most moms don’t deal with more than a few clogged milk ducts during their breastfeeding journey and most are resolved easily with one of these or combination of natural remedies. So, hang in there mama!!
How About You?
How did you treat your clogged milk duct? Do you have any remedies? Please comment below.
This is by no means meant to stand in place of advice from your doctor or IBCLC. If you are having a problem or a concern, it is always best to speak to your doctor.