Managing Mama’s Milk: How To Fix A Clogged Duct
Breastfeeding is a wonderful way for mothers to bond with their babies and provide the best nourishment for their growing little ones - but breastfeeding a baby can also be a huge challenge! It’s natural, it’s beautiful, and it’s healthy, but your breastfeeding journey can sometimes seem like an uphill battle. From lazy latches, to waking up at all hours of the night, to aches and pains, to cluster feeding, breastfeeding can present many challenges. One common problem many mothers face during their breastfeeding experience is dealing with a clogged milk duct. Thankfully, there are many ways to remedy this issue!
Milk ducts need to be drained during each feeding, and if they are not fully emptied, the area can become clogged and milk can become plugged in the duct and unable to flow. Clogged ducts can feel like sore, warm, hard areas in the breast, and might even appear red. Although blocked milk ducts are frustrating and painful, there are many ways to treat them and prevent them from occurring in the first place!
You can avoid clogged milk ducts by feeding your baby on demand. This means letting go of the idea of having a schedule, and going with the flow. Some days, your baby might want to nurse every 3 hours, while other days your baby might eat multiple times within the span of an hour. Your baby’s needs are always changing, and feeding on demand instead of on a schedule can help your milk flow properly! When you’re breastfeeding, you will also want to wear bras that fit properly. Many women avoid underwire bras and tight sports bras when they are nursing, as these can be too constricting and can hurt your milk supply. Clogged ducts can also occur when a mother misses a feeding or two, such as when the baby is given a bottle by another caregiver or when the baby sleeps through the night for the first time. If your baby skips a nursing session, consider replacing that feeding with a pumping session so you can empty your breasts.
It is almost important for nursing mamas to know the difference between different types of milk duct issues. The three most common issues women experience with milk ducts are:
- Plugged (clogged) ducts
- Nipple blebs (milk blisters)
Clogged ducts are the most common of the three, but mothers should be aware of issues like milk blebs and mastitis that can become more serious. A “bleb” or milk blister forms when congealed milk forms a bubble that blocks one of your ducts. This blockage prevents the milk from draining in this area. A tiny patch of skin grows over a nipple pore, causing breastmilk to become trapped behind it. It will usually look like a tiny dot on the nipple. A milk bleb is painful, makes breastfeeding uncomfortable, and causes inflammation in the breast. Blebs don’t resolve on their own, and need to be removed. You can try nursing your baby more often to try to soften the blister, or you can apply a warm compress to the area. Taking a warm bath or shower might also help. Use your hands to gently massage the area, working out the blockage, until you see the bleb come off. You might also see hardened milk leave the duct when the bleb is removed. If this process doesn’t work, consult your doctor or lactation consultant for help.
Mastitis is the most serious condition of the three, and refers to an infection of the breast. The breast will become hard, red, and hot to the touch. Mothers with mastitis will usually also experience flu-like symptoms, with fever, body aches, and fatigue. Breastfeeding with mastitis might be extremely painful. There are many causes of mastitis, but if the skin on your nipples is cracked or broken, you are at an increased risk of developing mastitis as germs from the environment penetrate the breast. Symptoms of mastitis include the following:
- Pain in a specific area of the breast
- Fever over 101 degrees
- Flu symptoms such as chills and body aches
- Reddened skin on the breast
- Pain during breastfeeding
If you suspect you have mastitis, call your doctor immediately. There are antibiotics that can help treat the infection. You should also rest as much as possible, apply warm compresses to the breast between feedings, and try to feed your baby often or pump, which can lower inflammation.
If you suspect that you have a clogged milk duct, here are some common remedies.
Warm compresses. Before each feeding, apply a damp, warm towel to the affected area, and then gently massage the area to help break up the blockage.
- Dangle feeding. Let gravity help unclog your breast by feeding your baby from above. This can be an awkward position to feed in, but many breastfeeding mothers swear by this trick!
- Focus on the affected side. If you have a plugged duct, start each feeding on that side, so that your breast can be fully emptied during each feeding.
- Breast massage. Massage the blocked area toward the nipple, and then use compression to help break up the blockage.
- Take a warm bath or shower. Warmth and moisture can help loosen things up, as well as relax you enough to ease the irritation. Once you’ve soaked in the shower or tub for a while, try gently massaging the breast to work out the blockage.
Take a lecithin supplement. Lecithin supplements can help prevent milk ducts from becoming clogged because it increases the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk while reducing the stickiness. The recommended dosage is between 3600-4800mg capsules, taken multiple times a day until the clog is resolved. Women can continue taking one capsule every day to prevent future clogs.
Breastfeeding is wonderful for your baby, but it can also be difficult on you! If you feel that you are experiencing any of the issues mentioned, be sure to mention it to your healthcare provider if the pain or inflammation doesn’t resolve within a few days.
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.