There are two most common fears for any nursing or pumping mom; a clogged milk duct or blocked milk duct and mastitis.
Breastfeeding your child is an amazing experience, but sometimes, it does come with a fair bit of challenges.
And there is reason to be afraid of these two things!
Any breastfeeding or pumping mom who has dealt with plugged milk ducts or mastitis can bear me witness that they are excruciating painful.
Although mastitis is not common, clogged milk ducts are a lot more prevalent.
I have struggled a lot with clogged milk ducts with both of my boys.
When I had my first born, not only did I deal with clogged milk ducts, but also mastitis.
As much as breastfeeding can be such a great time to bond with your little one, being a first-time mom, it was so overwhelming.
I didn’t know how to properly latch my baby; I couldn’t tell whether he breastfed enough or even breastfed at all.
Sadly, we ended up in neonatal ICU for kidney failure due to dehydration when he was 5 days old.
I didn’t breastfeed him enough, because I was always waiting for him to cry so that I can nurse him. Talk of being naïve!
If you are reading this and are struggling with breastfeeding your little one, hang in there.
This phase shall come to pass. Sending you lots of love and hugs.
Now that I am a lot wiser, I know it’s best to have the right knowledge about breastfeeding even before birth.
What is a clogged milk duct?
When this occurs, the tissue around the duct will get inflamed which may lead to blockage.
Signs of a blocked milk duct
- A hard lump on the breast accompanied by a tender spot
- Tenderness on the breast
- The breast may feel warm when touched
- Slow milk production on one side
If you start to experience low fever, this could be a sign that your plugged milk duct has an infection.
Therefore, you need to see a doctor as this may be a sign that your blocked milk duct has already developed mastitis.
A mastitis infection is something you cannot treat on your own.
What causes clogged milk duct?
When all your breast milk is not getting completely drained regularly, chances of dealing with blocked milk ducts will increase.
Here are some common causes of clogged milk ducts:
Improperly latching the baby on the breast
This is quite common for first-time mothers as it was with me.
I didn’t know how to properly latch my son and breastfeeding in those first days wasn’t something I looked forward to.
I would get tired as I tried to find a comfortable nursing position for both of us.
Since my boy wasn’t latching properly, he wasn’t able to completely empty the breasts.
When the baby leaves behind breast milk, then your milk ducts can block.
A sudden change in baby’s feeding schedule
When your baby suddenly sleeps all night long and doesn’t wake up to feed at night, that can make your breast milk get plugged.
Irregular feedings can also have the same effects on your breasts.
If you realize your baby has suddenly started sleeping all through the night and you were used to him waking at night for feeding, you can try dream feeding.
Alternatively, you can wake up at night and pump to prevent clogged milk ducts.
Over supply of breast milk
Did you discover a lactation smoothie that has now increased your milk supply?
Then, if you do not feed your baby or pump the excess milk for storage, chances are that you may have to deal with clogged milk ducts.
A weak pump
A weak pump that doesn’t drain out all the milk in the breast can block your milk ducts.
Pressure on the breasts
Wearing a tight-fitting bra can put pressure on the breast thus leading to plugged milk ducts.
The same will happen if you carry heavy stuff or perform strenuous exercises that target your upper body.
Do You Have A Milk Bleb Or Milk Blister?
First, you need to be sure that you are only suffering from blocked milk ducts.
A milk bleb manifests itself in the form of a small white blister on your nipple.
It blocks your nipple so all the milk does not come out when breastfeeding or pumping.
How To Clear A Clogged Milk Duct
1. Nurse or pump often
The only way to clear a clogged milk duct that won’t unclog is to nurse or pump often.
You can do that at intervals of every 2-3 hours. Make sure not to miss any nursing or pumping sessions.
I loved and highly recommend My Brest Friend Original Nursing Pillow as it made the nursing sessions easier for me.
Start each nursing or pumping session on the clogged breast and ensure the breast is completely emptied.
At the beginning, it may be a little painful, but this is the only way to unclog your breast.
2. Apply some moist heat
To help unclog my engorged breasts, here is what I’d do after showering.
Simply run one of my baby’s disposable diapers through some hot water then slowly press the diaper on my breasts.
A disposable diaper is super absorbent, so it will help with containing warmth for longer as compared to a wet cloth.
And when I didn’t have so much time in the shower, I would simply let the warm water run over my breasts for relieve.
However, I recommend getting a warm/cold pack such as the Pyrex Portable Hot & Cold Pack Combo.
These are portable and come in handy when you are travelling or are a working mom.
Breast massage is one of the things that helped me hugely to deal with clogged breasts.
I would breastfeed my baby, apply some warm heat as explained earlier and then gently massage my boobs.
Slowly massage the breasts with your thumb from behind towards the nipple.
Apply a little pressure on the firm areas and concentrate on those more. If the pain is too much, stop massaging and apply some moist heat.
While my firstborn was in neonatal ICU, the nurse helped unclog my milk ducts by massaging them while expressing milk. It was incredibly painful!
4. Dangle feed
This is simply feeding the baby while you are on top of him.
Choose a place where both you and the baby will be comfortable for at least 30 minutes.
I preferred my bed for this. Properly position the baby on the mattress and use pillows to prop him so that he is comfortable lying on his back.
Bend on all fours right over him, latch him properly, and enjoy the relief that comes with him nursing.
While in this position, gravity helps in completely draining milk from the breasts thus unblocking the clogged milk ducts.
5. Use anything that vibrates on your affected breast
A lot of women say that vibration on the affected breast gives so much relief.
You can use your phone on a vibration setting or an electric brush to help relieve you of the discomfort of a clogged milk duct.
However, a more effective tool would be a lactation massager.
7. How to clear a clogged milk duct with haakaa
If you are a nursing mom, you must have heard all there is about the haaka breast pump.
For the breastfeeding mom who doesn’t have any idea, the haakaa is a silicone breast pump that is designed to work by suction.
It is entirely different from the usual breast pump.
It is hands-free and doesn’t use electricity; instead, it uses powerful suction to pump out milk from your breast.
It is meant to be used while you are breastfeeding.
Simply attach the haakaa on your other breast while you are breastfeeding, and it catches every single drop of milk.
The haaka comes in handy when you have a clogged milk duct.
To unclog a milk duct with haaka, fill it with some warm water and add in a tablespoon of Epsom salt.
Attach it to the affected breast and give it time to suction out your breast milk.
NB: If the haakaa doesn’t attach, reduce the amount of warm water. You may have put too much.
Besides, you can use the haakaa to relieve painful sore nipples. In the first few days of breastfeeding, breastfeeding is usually painful.
It makes your nipples painful, and they can even get sores and crack.
Apart from using nipple cream, you can use the haakaa breast pump.
Fill it with plain warm water and attach it to your breast.
Ensure your nipple touches the warm water. This should help in healing your sore nipples and make breastfeeding a lot easier for you.
7. Using husband to unclog milk duct
I requested my husband to help me by suckling my engorged breast. Honestly, I didn’t expect him to accept, but he did!
The suction from your partner may be a little painful, but it will help unclog your milk ducts which is all you want.
8. Nursing support
Sometimes, you will try so many things and nothing will seem to bring long-term relief.
When this happens, I recommend reaching out for nursing support.
You can ask your nurse, friends, or fellow moms in your area for recommendations of organizations that support nursing moms.
Being a mom doesn’t mean you know everything. At times, frequently clogged breasts can be a result of improper latching that you aren’t aware of.
A breastfeeding coach will help you learn how to properly latch your baby.
Do not be afraid to ask for such help. It will save you lots of time and free you of pain in your boobs.
How long does it take for a blocked milk duct to clear?
A blocked milk duct will clear in 24-48 hours.
It’s important to unclog the milk duct as soon as possible to prevent any further complications such as mastitis or pus in your breast milk.
While treating your milk ducts, use pain relievers such as ibuprofen to offer you the much-needed relief.
How to prevent recurring clogged milk ducts
Through both of my breastfeeding journeys, I dealt with clogged milk ducts severally.
For some of those occasions, I know the causes, but for other times, I simply couldn’t understand why I had clogged milk ducts.
So how do you prevent this from happening to you?
- Breastfeed or pump often to keep your breast milk flowing in the milk ducts. You need to completely empty your milk ducts to prevent a built-up.
- Vary your breastfeeding positions with each feeding to allow milk to get drained from different parts of the breast.
- Ensure your baby has a good latch. If you’re having a problem with latching, I would recommend you see a lactation consultant to evaluate whether you are latching properly.
- Exclusively pumping? Then you may need to check your pump. You probably are using a weak pump. A weak pump will not completely empty your breasts thus leading to clogged milk ducts.
- Do not wait too long between breastfeeding or pumping sessions.
- Drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach and wear a loose fitting nursing bra.
- Some women find that lecithin helps in making milk less viscous, thus reducing the recurrence of plugged milk ducts. Lecithin is a naturally occurring fatty acid that is found in foods. Kelly Moms recommends a dosage of 3600-4800 mg lecithin per day, or 1 capsule (1200 milligram) 3-4 times per day.
Help! My Clogged milk duct won’t unclog
If you’re boobs are still painful even after trying the above remedies, then it is time to see your doctor. You maybe dealing with an infection that needs medical attention.
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