By Melissa Portunato MPH, IBCLC, RLC
Ouch! Clogged ducts can be extremely painful but completely treatable. How did you even get them in the first place? A clogged duct can be caused by a variety of different reasons from prolonged time without milk removal, shallow latch, restrictive clothing, or even stress. Read our IBCLC’s tips below on how to manage them, find relief, and when to call the doctor.
What’s a clogged duct anyway?
We all have around 15-20 milk ducts in each breast. A “plugged” or clogged duct can occur when a milk duct that leads to the nipple gets clogged. It usually onsets gradually and can be associated with a hard, often painful lump. You can experience tenderness, little or no warmth, and you might even feel the location shift as the clog makes its way out of the breast. With proper care, most clogged ducts subside in around 2-3 days. Clogged ducts are most common during the first few months of breastfeeding when your body is getting insync with the demand of your growing baby. They are also common during the weaning process. The key to remember with clogged ducts is that they need to be getting better, not worse!
I have a clogged duct! HELP!
The fastest way to treat clogged ducts is by frequently nursing or pumping. Vary your nursing positions while trying to aim the baby’s chin at the affected area. Try nursing in the “dangling feed” position. Lie baby flat on the bed and lean your breast over your baby to nurse, aiming baby’s chin towards the clogged duct. This breastfeeding position can help position your nipple farther into the baby’s mouth for more effective milk removal.
If you are exclusively pumping, pump every 2-3 hours without going any longer. Practice massaging your breasts while pumping. You want to start massaging above where you feel the clog and gently towards the nipple and stop once you reach the areola. Hand expressing before and after pumping can help drain milk more effectively allowing you to completely empty your breast.
You can use a warm compress before you nurse or pump to help with milk removal. Alternate heat and cold on the area affected. If you find you have a milk blister, avoid trying to squeeze because it can make things worse. The milk blister or bleb will naturally draw out as the clog subsides.
Mastitis or Clogged Ducts?
Not all clogged ducts lead to mastitis and even mastitis can be infectious or non-infectious. If your clogged ducts are getting worse, you develop flu-like symptoms, your breast is hot, red, and tender then it’s time to check in with your doctor. In some cases, antibiotics will be required.
Preventing Clogged Ducts from Happening
Wear loose clothing, and go braless whenever possible. Stay away from bras with underwire, a wire-free supportive bra is best. Keep your baby close to you and feed at early breastfeeding cues. Cracking or bleeding nipples are more susceptible to infectious mastitis since bacteria will be able to easily enter the breast. Routinely washing in the shower using a non-antibacterial soap can help prevent infection. Never go more than 3-4 hours max without pumping or nursing. Massage and compress while you nurse/pump and if nursing varies your positions. Eat healthy and stay hydrated. Clogged ducts are more common and more difficult to treat with a lowered immune system.
Clogged ducts are common and treatable. If you feel they are not improving after a few days, it’s time to seek medical attention. In some cases, clogged ducts can lead to an infectious case of mastitis so it’s necessary to reach out to your doctor if you are getting worse or symptoms are not improving. It’s especially important to nurse frequently during this time and get plenty of rest. Treat it like you have the flu! Rest, hydrate, and nurse/pump often!
Have a clogged duct and need advice? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our IBCLCs will be happy to chat with you. You’re doing the best you can! Take care of yourself and pump on.
Blocked duct and mastitis. International BreastFeeding Centre. (n.d.). https://ibconline.ca/information-sheets/blocked-ducts-mastitis/.