Tips for relieving a clogged milk duct for breastfeeding mothers

The pain of a clogged milk duct is a horrible drain on a mama who is already exhausted. 

It can leave you struggling to find a comfortable position to sleep, suffering pain when holding your baby and considering quitting breastfeeding for good. 

Its weird how the pain can make you not want to feed at all, when with a clogged milk duct its actually best treated by carrying on with breastfeeding. 

I remember having lots of incidents of clogged milk ducts when feeding both of my daughters. 

With the first I was pumping and the clogs were more frequent. This is because I would sometimes overpump. 

With my second, they were less frequent and easier to shift. It is very true that a nursing baby is way quicker and more efficient at getting milk out of a breast than a breast pump is. That’s not to say that pumping can’t come in handy when it comes to a clogged duct however. 

I still remember the pain of having a clogged duct. It’s like someone has punched you in the boob and left a nasty bruise. 

Then there’s the relief when the duct unplugs, and you can actually feel the milk shifting out sometimes. The moment when it happens is like instant pain relief!

So there’s no doubt about it, a clogged duct is a really nasty thing that can happen when you are trying to nurse your baby, but if you follow these treatments you stand a good chance of curing your clogged milk duct fast.

The good news is that once you clear your blockage, the pain should disappear almost immediately. 

Symptoms of a clogged milk duct 

When you have a clogged milk duct, it’s impossible to miss that something is wrong. 

You’ll probably feel at least one of these: 

  • Pain from breast. This may radiate out to the entire breast but there will be one particular spot that is especially painful. The pain will only be in the breast where the clogged milk duct is located. You can have more than one at a time. 
  • Hard lump in breast that is painful to the touch. You will be able to feel the clogged milk duct. It will be small, hard and tender to the touch. It may even be protruding slightly. 
  • Discomfort even after baby has finished feeding. You feel full even after your baby has fed. A really clogged duct may not unclog during feeds. Try some of the tips below if feeding does not help. 

Causes of clogged milk duct 

The best treatment for a clogged milk duct is to avoid causing it in the first place. 

A clogged milk duct is where the passages that carry milk from the milk-producing mammary glands becomes blocked. If the duct becomes blocked or a feed is skipped, or incomplete, the milk can build up and cause a blockage.

How to relieve a clogged milk duct

However there are a few things you can do practically right now to help prevent a clogged duct. 

Tight clothing

A tight bra can be a particularly big issue for causing blocked ducts. Avoid wearing bras with underwire or bras that are too small. 

Get yourself measured after having a baby as you may find your boobs will grow a bit post giving birth. Try wearing a proper nursing bra. These will stretch to accommodate your boobs. 

Not fully draining breast during feeding 

If you switch sides or stop before your baby has fully drained the breast then you could cause a clogged duct. Try to ensure the breast is fully drained. You will know because it will feel a lot softer after feeding. 

Over supply 

This is often caused by over pumping either between feeds or when you are exclusively pumping for your baby. 

Gradually cut back on the length of time you pump for once the clogged duct is treated with the tips below.

Symptoms of mastitis 

A clogged milk duct is one of the main causes a mastitis. This is an infection of the breast and you will need to take care of yourself to recover. In more serious cases you may need antibiotics to help. 

Symptoms of mastitis include: 

  • Fever
  • Breast swelling
  • Redness on breast
  • Pain or burning when feeding
  • Feeling unwell and run down

Mastitis is the worst case scenario of a clogged milk duct. In most cases you will be able to fix the clog and get back to nursing as usual!

Try these tips to relieve your clogged duct: 

1. Feed often

This is the most important thing you can do help relieve a blocked duct. 

Do not skip feeds because of the pain, your baby is your best bet at unclogging the duct. 

Put your baby to the breast as often as you think they might be hungry and pay particular attention to the impacted breast. 

2. Fully empty the affected breast 

It might really hurt and be the last thing you want to do, but keeping your baby on the affected breast for as long as possible is the best way to clear your blocked duct. 

Try massage, gently, the affected breast where the blocked duct is located. 

Get two fingers and just gently rub in circles where it is. This can help to get things moving. 

3. Position baby’s chin towards the blockage 

Your baby could shift the blockage if you reposition them so that their chin is pointed in the direction of the blockage. 

This can help due to both the suckling being in the right direction and the mouth movement helping to work out the blockage. 

4. Get on all fours over your baby to feed

Let gravity do some of the hard work for you! Lay your baby down flat on the floor, hover over them on all fours and feed with your boobs dangling down. 

You may feel a bit silly doing this, but honestly it’s amazing how fast this can do the trick. 

5. Hand express and massage 

Try a bit of gentle breast massage with your hands. Support the breast with one hand underneath and with the other gently massage the breast, focusing from the clogged duct towards the nipple in firm motions. 

6. Apply gentle heat to the affected area

A warm flannel can help to unclog the duct. Make sure it is clean before using it.

7. Try a warm shower

A warm show and hand expressing can also help to get rid of a clogged duct. 

8. Wear loose clothing 

While you have a clogged duct, you will feel a lot more comfortable if you keep your clothing loose. 

Tighter clothing could make the discomfort worse, and even cause more blocked ducts. 

9. Remove clothing for nursing 

Try nursing without a top on at all. Some nursing bras, when they fold down to release your nipple, may pinch and stick into you in awkward places which can worsen the clogged duct. 

10. Drink lots of fluids

Keep your strength up with lots of fluids. Drink water after every single feed. 

11. Pump after feeding 

If your baby is full and refuses to feed any longer, but your blocked duct is still there, try using a manual or electric pump. 

Keep the suction strength gentle so as not to cause yourself too much discomfort. 

Try applying gentle massage and pressure to the clogged duct while doing this. The very best pump I ever used was this one. It’s the most efficient, easiest to use and portable too.

12. Rest and relax

Don’t overdo and get lots of rest while you have a clogged duct do avoid it turning into an infection. 

13. Soak your boobs in a warm epsom salt bath 

Fill the sink or bath with warm water and add some epsom salts before soaking your boobs. Try gently massage while doing this. 

14. Try an electric toothbrush 

Yes, really! The vibrations can help to break up the clogged milk. 

It could be an electric toothbrush, or it could be a vibrator. Whatever you have around the house, try holding it on the impacted area and let the vibrations shake the milk out. 

Don’t press down too hard as you don’t want to cause yourself any damage or more pain.

15. Take ibuprofen for pain 

Ibuprofen is safe to take when you are breastfeeding. You could take some to relieve the pain, but remember you still need to treat the clogged duct even if you have managed to take the edge off of the pain. 

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