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Go with the flow: how to treat a clogged milk duct

Go with the flow: how to treat a clogged milk duct

New mamas know that breastfeeding comes with its own set of challenges. Clogged ducts are a common breastfeeding issue many mothers deal with at some point.

A plugged duct feels like a sore or tender lump in the breast. Plugged ducts usually occur in one breast at a time and are often caused by inadequate milk drainage. When pressure builds up behind the clog, the surrounding breast tissue becomes inflamed. The good news is that most clogged ducts clear up on their own in a couple of days, especially if you keep your milk flowing.

If you’re breastfeeding and want to know how to clear a clogged duct, we’ve got tips to help you go with the flow.

The low-down on ducts

Milk ducts often become clogged when your breasts aren’t completely drained. Try to fully empty your breasts each time you’re breastfeeding or pumping to prevent clogs. Other reasons for clogged milk ducts include:

  • Your baby has trouble latching or sucking and is unable to drain the breast during feedings.
  • Changes in feeding schedules or missed feedings can impact flow.
  • Tight clothing or bras can restrict milk flow.

Symptoms of a clogged milk duct

The symptoms of a plugged milk duct may be different for some women but generally include:

  • Breast lump that is small, firm and sore. Often these lumps are close to the skin and may appear red or warm to the touch.
  • Decreased milk supply or output.
  • Feeling of fullness or that your milk isn’t draining properly.
  • Milk that’s thick or stringy.
  • Pain, swelling or tenderness during or after feeding or pumping.

Time to clear the clog

Now that you’ve got the low-down on milk ducts, it’s time to get down to the nitty- gritty: clearing and preventing clogged milk ducts.

  1. Feed, feed, and feed again! The best way to clear a clog is to breastfeed or pump as often as possible . Make sure to feed from both breasts and drain the breast completely.
  2. Change breastfeeding positions. To clear a clog, experiment with different positions when you breastfeed. Gravity is your friend–finding positions where gravity allows for greater drainage can help. So does angling the baby’s chin toward the clog to create suction near the clogged duct.
  3. Heat it up. To get milk flowing and ease discomfort, use heating pads, warm compresses or a hot shower. Letting warm water run over the affected area can help reduce pain fast.
  4. Keep it loose. Clogged ducts are aggravated by tight clothing, bras or even sleeping positions. Relieve the pressure on your breasts by wearing looser clothing, forgoing underwire bras for now and adjusting how you sleep.
  5. Massage for more milk. Massage the affected area before and during a feeding or pumping to relieve a clog. Use circular hand motions towards the lump or nipple. The end of a motorized toothbrush works too!
  6. When all else fails, lactation consultant to the rescue! If these tips don’t work or you find yourself with clogged milk ducts frequently, a lactation consultant can help find the cause and work on a long-term solution.

Other symptoms of concern

If you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms on top of signs of clogged milk ducts, you may have a breast infection called mastitis. Mastitis can be serious and can require prescription treatment from your OB/GYN. Reach out to your doctor if you feel:

  • Breasts that are red and warm to the touch all over, rather than in one location
  • Fever or fatigue
  • Nauseous or are vomiting
  • Pus or blood in your breastmilk
  • Yellow discharge from the nipples

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