Have you ever had a clogged milk duct? A clogged milk duct is a common issue for breastfeeding moms. Clogged ducts can be very uncomfortable, and if you aren’t able to clear the plugged duct, milk will back up into your breast tissue causing tenderness and pain.
A clogged (or plugged) duct occurs when one of the ducts in your nipple becomes blocked, and the milk has nowhere to go. As the milk builds up in your breast tissue, a lump forms, and ow does it hurt!
What is a clogged milk duct?
Your breast contains a network of glands (small sacs that store breast milk) and ducts (tubes that carry milk from your glands to your nipple). If one of your ducts suddenly gets blocked, milk becomes trapped inside the duct and gland. As the milk fills up, your breast tissue becomes inflamed.
You can usually tell where a clogged duct is because a hard lump will form behind the duct. It may become red and uncomfortable. The longer it stays clogged, the more painful it becomes. This is why you want to treat a clogged milk duct quickly, before it gets infected or becomes difficult to unclog.
Do you remember when your milk first came in and your breasts felt hard as rocks? This is what a clog duct feels like, except it’s located in one spot on your breast, normally close to your nipple.
Clearing a blocked duct is not always easy. Even after you clear the milk duct, it may take a day or two for your breast to stop hurting.
What causes clogged milk ducts?
One of the biggest reasons moms get a clogged duct is because they skip a feeding or forget to breastfeed on one side.
Most women nurse their baby on both sides during a feeding. But, if you have a hard time remembering what side you nursed on last, or you only nurse on one side per feeding, you might accidentally skip a feeding.
Skipped feedings cause your breast to become full of milk. This can cause the duct to fill up with fluid under your skin. If the milk isn’t cleared, the duct may become blocked by the sticky fluid.
Sore and tender nipples can also turn into clogged ducts. If you have a sore spot on your nipple, milk can get trapped inside the duct. Women often get sore nipples when they first start breasteeeding, but they can also get tiny sores or their nipples once their baby gets a few teeth. Baby may scrape, chew or bite your nipple causing a scab to form and blocking the flow of milk.
How to clear a clogged milk duct
If you notice a clogged duct, you want to clear it quickly. If a blocked duct goes untreated, it can lead to a breast infection or mastitis.
Here are a few tips for clearing a duct quickly.
Frequent breastfeeding or pumping
The best way to get the milk out of a blocked duct is to nurse or pump frequently on the affected side. Massage your breast as your baby nurses, pressing down towards your nipple to force the milk out. Breastfeed on the affected side first at every feeding, even if it’s painful. Let your baby nurse for as long as possible to completely empty your breast.
Take a hot shower or bath
Try soaking in the tub with some epsom salt. Epsom salt is used to treat minor aches and pains. It may provide some relief from the discomfort. A good soak in the tub can help soften any broken skin or loosen up a clogged duct.
While you are in the tub or shower, massage your breast and nipple. If your milk duct opens up, milk will start streaming out. If this happens you will feel this amazing sense of relief! Squeeze your breast tissue and allow the stream to flow until most of the milk is out.
When you have a clogged milk duct, hand expressing often works better than pumping because you have more control over the angle and pressure applied. To hand express, start by massaging your breast and rolling your fingers over your nipple. You want to stimulate a letdown. Then squeeze your breast and nipple in a forward and downward motion, gently tugging on your nipple to release milk.
If the clogged duct opens up, you won’t have to keep tugging on your nipple. It will start spraying. Just let the milk to spray out and allow the milk to empty from your breast.
This trick is one moms have been sharing forever, and it usually does the trick. If you have a stubborn clog and nothing is working, try changing your nursing position. You will want to do this in a bed. Place your baby in the bed and dangle your breast over the top of her. Once she is latched on, use gravity and massage your breast to work the milk out of the duct.
Get your partner’s help
You have to have a really great partner for this one, but if all else fails, have your partner suck the milk out of your duct. This one is probably going to be a hard sell, but some guys are up for the challenge. The nice thing about getting your partner’s help is that he has a larger mouth and can cover more of your nipple and breast tissue. He may also have a stronger suck than your baby. Who knows, he may even like it.
What if I can’t clear a clogged milk duct?
Usually you can treat a clogged duct at home, but if a duct remains clogged it can get infected. If you notice any symptoms of mastitis you should call your doctor right away.
Mastitis symptoms to watch for:
● Red streaks or patches on your breast
● Your entire breast feels painful or swollen
● Your breast feels warm when you touch it
● Painful burning or stinging when you breastfeed
● Fever or flu-like symptoms