What To Do If You Get A Clogged Milk Duct
5m read

What To Do If You Get A Clogged Milk Duct

Clogged milk ducts can be frustrating and painful, but with some simple at-home remedies, you'll likely be on the mend in no time!

One of the most painful, troublesome parts of breastfeeding is a clogged duct (also called a plugged duct). Thankfully, this is a common (and usually not dangerous) problem faced by many breastfeeding mothers, but it can be frustrating to deal with!

What is a clogged duct? A clogged milk duct occurs when breast milk can't flow through the breasts to the nipple, because the duct transporting the milk becomes blocked or plugged. This issue can cause pain during nursing or a painful lump in the breast - and it can sometimes lead to a breast infection accompanied by flu-like symptoms. In most cases, clogged milk duct care can happen at home.

What exactly is a clogged milk duct? 

Mother feeding breast with nursing pillow

Clogged milk ducts, also known as plugged ducts (or blocked ducts), occur when the milk duct gets obstructed in some way, preventing the milk from flowing to the nipple easily. It can be accompanied by breast pain or a tender lump in the breast.

A mother's breasts contain a complex network of mammary ducts, which are tube-like structures that carry milk from the breast tissue to the nipples, making sure the breast completely empties during nursing sessions. Milk can become backed up in the milk duct when anything compresses the ducts. This can happen due to inflammation in the soft tissues and blood vessels in the breasts.

Clogged ducts can cause a red, tender, painful breast lump. Clogged milk ducts can sometimes lead to a breast infection, but most clogged ducts can be treated at home.

What are the symptoms and causes of plugged milk ducts?

One of the main signs that you're dealing with plugged ducts is finding a hard lump on your breast. It can be painful and sore when touched. It might also be red and swollen, and visible in the mirror. It can also feel like engorgement. You might notice problems with your milk flowing (especially if you're pumping) or your overall milk supply.

Other symptoms of a plugged milk duct are:

  • Painful letdown (the beginning of the milk flow)

  • Pain and swelling near the lump

  • Localized pain in a certain part of the breast

  • The affected area moves or changes size during feeding

  • You experience pain during milk expression that goes away after feeding

Some mothers also get a milk bleb/blister on the nipple when they experience clogged milk ducts. It appears as a small white dot and can be composed of debris from inflammation within the milk ducts.

What causes clogged milk ducts?

The main reason clogged milk ducts occur during breastfeeding is inflammation in the tissue and blood vessels around the milk ducts.

Some reasons this might occur:

  1. You are in the first few weeks postpartum dealing with engorgement and forgetting to breastfeed often enough.

  2. The baby has a poor latch where the baby's latch doesn't leave the breast completely drained after feeding.

  3. Many mothers skip feedings when their baby is asleep or content - but going longer periods between feeding can cause blocked ducts.

  4. The baby's feeding schedule or your pumping schedule changes. Your breasts might not be completely emptied during weaning, starting solids, or when the baby is ill.

  5. You need to try different positions for nursing, where the baby can get more milk.

  6. You are pumping too frequently and creating an oversupply.

What is a clogged milk duct?

A clogged milk duct (also called plugged ducts or blocked ducts) occurs during lactation when a milk duct becomes blocked or obstructed, preventing breast milk from flowing to your nipple.

Your breasts contain a network of milk ducts (mammary ducts). These tube-like ducts carry milk from your breast tissue to your nipples. Milk can back up in the duct if there’s anything compressing the ducts such as inflammation in the soft tissues and surrounding blood vessels.

A clogged milk duct causes a red, tender and painful lump in your breast. It can lead to infection, so it’s important to know the signs of a clogged duct and how to treat it at home.

How is a clogged duct treated? 

Breastfeeding consultant supports young mother to overcome problems

Many mothers can unclog a milk duct and get milk flowing normally right at home within a few days, with some simple home remedies. Mothers should continue to breastfeed or pump as much milk as the baby wants during this time. Try to avoid feeding or pumping more than usual, as this can cause more inflammation.

How can I clear a clogged duct?

Try to avoid breastfeeding any more than usual. If you have an oversupply, try to let the breasts rest. The healing process can include taking Advil or Tylenol every 8 hours and applying a warm compress or ice to the affected area as needed. Avoid underwire bras or anything that is tight or causes pain on the affected side.

Gentle massage or vibration can also be helpful. Massage while showering in warm water or using warm compresses can help alleviate painfulness even further.

When you no longer feel a lump, the clog is most likely gone. You might also observe the clog if you're pumping or expressing milk.

Can clogged ducts cause more complicated health issues? 

Health Problem Concept Young Woman Feel Menstrual Cyclic Breast Pain

Contact your healthcare provider if the pain is accompanied by a fever, body aches or chills, redness and swelling that come with pain, or severe pain during pumping sessions or nursing.

Mastitis also causes flu-like symptoms that can cause intense aches and pains. These are common mastitis symptoms. Mastitis is an infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics.

Recurring clogged milk ducts should also be addressed with a lactation consultant, who can help work through any issues related to breastfeeding.

Typically, clogged ducts are nothing to worry about.

If you find yourself experiencing some of these common symptoms, be sure to schedule a meeting with a lactation consultant or healthcare provider who can walk you through the next steps. As much as possible, try to avoid tight clothing and missed feedings, and work on more thorough emptying of the breasts through perfecting your baby's latch.



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.

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