There’s something beyond wondrous and magical about finally holding your newborn and breastfeeding them. Until out of nowhere, while you’re busy enjoying the experience, clogged milk ducts enter the scene. Here are the symptoms of clogged milk ducts, how to prevent it, and some remedies favoured by moms through the ages.
Symptoms of clogged milk ducts
The breasts contain a series of ducts that carry milk from the mammary glands to the nipples. Plugged or clogged milk ducts happen when a milk duct in your breast gets blocked or otherwise has poor drainage. Symptoms build up gradually and generally affect just one breast. They include:
- Intense pain
- Heat and selling in the breasts
- A swollen and tender lump in one area of your breast
- Pain or swelling near the lump
- Discomfort that subsides after feeding/pumping
- Milk plug/blister/bleb (a small white dot at the opening of your nipple)
- Movement of the lump over time
- A temporary decrease in milk supply
- Pulled or sore muscle feeling in and around the breast
Researchers found that about 4.5% of women experienced clogged milk ducts during their first year of breastfeeding. When left untreated plugged milk ducts can cause mastitis which is a painful infection in the breasts.
Causes and risk factors
Anyone who is breastfeeding can experience a clogged duct although there are factors that increase the likelihood of developing it. Risk factors include:
- A recent change in feeding pattern
- Irregular feeding schedule
- The baby’s latching or sucking poorly
- Cracked skin on the nipples
- Not fully draining the breasts during each nursing session
- Oversupply of breast milk
- Short or skipped breastfeeding sessions
- Pressure on the breasts due to uncomfortable nursing position
- Sleeping on the stomach
- Pressure on the breasts due to tight-fitting clothes or bra with underwire
- Stress and fatigue
- Inadequate diet
- History of mastitis when nursing
- Surgery such as a breast biopsy with the affected area interfering with milk drainage
Treatment and home remedies
Typically, clogged milk ducts last for about 1-2 days but may last longer. Some resolve on their own as the baby breastfeeds but any suspicious lumps should be investigated. The last thing you want is for a clogged duct to turn into mastitis or a breast abscess. Here are a few things to try unclogging the ducts.
Nurse, nurse, nurse
Breastfeeding is the best way to clear a clogged milk duct… let your baby do something for you too, am I right? Offer the baby the affected breast first unless it’s too painful then let them suckle on the other until they drain it then shift them to the affected breast. The baby will suckle more vigorously on the first and be gentler on the second.
This is one of the oldest home remedies for clogged milk ducts. Nurse your child while on all fours with your breast dangling into their mouth. Gravity can help drain the breast and remove the clog.
Massage the breast while breastfeeding to clear clogged milk ducts. Massaging the breast can minimize pain even for mothers who are not dealing with clogs. Soaking in a warm bath while massaging the affected breast also helps. Massaging can feel strange at first and maybe difficult for people. If you are able to, you can purchase a lactation massager. It can be used before and after nursing, and while using a breast pump. It makes pumping go faster and helps empty the breast thoroughly.
Change breastfeeding position
Try different breastfeeding positions so that the suction varies increasing the likelihood of sucking out the clog.
Hot or cold packs
Some moms prefer cold packs and others hot packs. Find which one works for you and use it on the affected breast. Apply the heating pad to your breast for about 20 minutes to alleviate swollen milk ducts.
You may be tempted to pop the clog by pinching down on it, resist that impulse. Popping a clogged milk duct might lead to more inflammation and pain.
Consider taking medication to relieve the pain and inflammation. Since you’ll still be breastfeeding consult a doctor about what’s safe.
Soak the breasts in a warm Epsom salt bath for 10-20 minutes.
Prevention of clogged milk ducts
- Wash your nipples with warm water.
- Find a way to get adequate rest (as hard as it may be).
- Eat well and drink a lot of water.
- Keep to a regular breastfeeding schedule.
- Ease into schedule changes, no sudden shifts.
- Feed the baby for at least 1.5 hours to 3 hours daily.
- Let your baby feed longer than usual (up to 20 minutes per breast).
- Massage the breast while breastfeeding.
- Wear loose clothing and avoid bras with underwires.
- Switch your breastfeeding position regularly so that your ducts are drained equally.
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