Most moms know that breastfeeding is hard work. And one common breastfeeding problem is clogged or plugged milk ducts. Here are a few things moms should know about it:
What are clogged milk ducts?
Our milk flows through our breasts in a pipe-like system of ducts. And if a duct gets clogged, blocked, or the milk has a hard time passing through, a clog can form. This results in a small lump in our breasts that might look red and feel painful when touched.
What are the symptoms of clogged milk ducts?
Symptoms to watch out for include:
- A painful part in your breast
- A swollen, tender lump in your breast
- A feeling of heat or swelling in your breasts
- A slower milk flow or a significant decrease in milk production on one side
- Your skin looks lumpy in one area of your breasts
- A small white dot on your nipple also called a milk bleb
- A low-grade fever possibly. If you have a fever along with breast pain, consult your doctor as this could mean that you have a breast infection.
What can cause a clogged milk duct?
Women who are breastfeeding, have just given birth, or recently stopped breastfeeding are prone to clogged milk ducts. It can also most likely occur if a breastfeeding mom does not regularly or thoroughly drain her breasts either via direct latching or pumping, or if she has breastfeeding difficulties such as oversupply, a baby with a weak latch, or pain that can affect nursing. Other factors include:
- A change in feeding
- An irregular breastfeeding or pumping schedule
- Missed breastfeeding or pumping sessions
- Pressure on the breasts due to nursing or sleeping position, tight-fitting clothes, or bra with underwire
How can you treat a clogged milk duct?
Clogged milk ducts can be painful and concerning. But if you act quickly, you can treat it at home. Leaving a clogged milk duct untreated can lead to a breast infection or worse. So here are a few things that can help:
Latch. Letting your baby directly latch as much as possible is the best way to unclog your duct and get the milk flowing again. You can offer your baby the affected side first (but if it’s too painful you can also start with the other side) and make sure that she drains it thoroughly before unlatching or offering the other side.
Try a different nursing position. Nursing positions that use gravity to help drain your milk can also help unclog your ducts. You can try nursing on all fours with your baby positioned directly underneath you, or latch your baby with her chin and nose pointing towards the clog – this way her suction is aimed directly at the affected area.
Switch positions. Aside from trying positions recommended for clogged ducts, you can also change your regular breastfeeding positions – from cradle to football hold to crossover. This way, all your milk ducts are emptied regularly.
Pump as much as possible. And this includes if you feel that your baby wasn’t able to fully empty your breast. You can pump after feeding until your milk comes out in slow drips instead of a steady stream.
Stay away from tight clothes. This includes ill-fitting bras or bras with underwires. Clogged ducts can also be caused or aggravated by external pressure.
Bring on the heat. Apply a warm compress (a washcloth dipped in warm water) on the affected breast right before feeding or pumping to help get the milk flowing.
Massage it out. You can try to apply a gentle pressure on the clogged duct before and during feeding to help unblock it. Try doing a circular motion on the outside of your breast and gently move in towards the lump. But don’t overdo it as doing so could lead to bruising.
See your doctor. If your lump or clogged ducts get bigger, lasts for more than a few days, or if you get a fever or significant discomfort, consult your doctor.