Clogged Milk Ducts: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
6 min. read
One of the most common challenges that breastfeeding mothers experience is clogged milk ducts. What does a clogged milk duct feel like? It feels like a tender lump in the breast and can be a bit painful and uncomfortable.
Here we’ll address all the most common questions surrounding this issue. From clogged breast duct symptoms, to treatment, to tips on preventative care, we’ll cover the essential information on clogged ducts. And as always, seek a second professional opinion if you require further information.
Signs of a clogged milk duct
What exactly is a clogged milk duct and how does it differ from other breast-related conditions, such as mastitis? A clogged milk duct, also referred to as a blocked or plugged duct, is when milk is blocked in the breast, resulting in incomplete drainage of the milk duct. This causes a tender lump to form in the breast and can lead to discomfort in that specific area.1
Common symptoms of a clogged breast duct include: 2
Pain in the one area of the breast
A tender lump in one area of the breast
Only a slight increase in warmth of the affected area
A small white blister on the nipple
In short, a clogged duct is when there is a localized, uncomfortable lump on the breast, without any other sign of illness or fever. If there are fever or flu-like symptoms and if the breasts are warm to the touch, it could be mastitis. Find more information about mastitis symptoms and support here.
Causes of a clogged milk duct
There are a few things that can cause a clogged milk duct:
Not fully emptying the breast during a feeding
Improper latching while nursing so baby doesn’t extract all the milk
Oversupply of milk
Immediately stopping breastfeeding
Pressure on the breast
To summarize, the cause of a clogged breast duct is usually due to not fully draining all the milk or from putting too much pressure on the breast for an extended amount of time.
How to clear a clogged milk duct
It’s important to seek treatment for a clogged milk duct as soon as possible to avoid a breast infection. Here’s what to do for a clogged milk duct:3
1. Continue breastfeeding
When it comes to relieving a clogged duct, breastfeeding mothers should continue to nurse their baby and make sure that he or she is fully extracting the milk. They can also try breastfeeding their newborn on the side of the clogged duct every two hours. This will help to keep the milk flow going and may unclog the milk duct.
Continuous milk flow stimulation is the goal when dealing with a clogged duct. These breast padscan be very useful to keep clothes milk stain-free while nursing on the go. Their honeycomb top sheet and ultra-absorbent design can help keep clothes dry and comfortable.
2. Massage and express between feedings
Before starting each feeding, it’s recommended that the mother gently massage her breast, working her way toward the nipple. This will help to stimulate milk flow before even beginning to nurse. Once finished with the feeding session, the mother can express any milk that is still in the breast with the clogged duct to ensure complete drainage.
Encouraging milk flow can help prevent clogged milk ducts, but there may be moments when mothers can’t be with their baby during feedings. Expressing milk manually during these times is key to promoting milk flow. Consider this manual breast pump that allows mothers to comfortably pump their milk anytime, anywhere.
3. Focus on the position
It may be helpful to position the baby’s chin so that it is aimed towards the clogged duct. Breastfeeding this way will help the baby to focus his or her sucking on the clogged area – reducing any clogged pores on the breasts.
A warm compress can help to relieve some of the discomfort in the affected breast. Mothers can apply a warm, moist towel to the area of the clogged duct several times a day while gently massaging their breast.
5. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing
One of the causes of clogged milk ducts is putting too much pressure on the breasts for an extended period of time. Tight clothes or bras can result in such pressure, which is why it’s important to wear loose-fitting clothes to help relieve a clogged duct.
Some mothers may also find clogged pores on their breasts, which loose-fitting clothes and bras can also help to resolve. Tighter clothes cause more sweating and can make it difficult for sweat to evaporate, causing clogged pores. Mothers should aim to wear loose-fitting clothes to help unclog both their pores and milk duct.
If the clogged duct doesn’t loosen up after trying these remedies, it’s best advised to contact a doctor or lactation consultant to prevent it from becoming an infection.
How to prevent clogged milk ducts
In an ideal world, every mother would like to avoid clogged milk ducts altogether. But while there’s no sure-fire way of avoiding clogged milk ducts, there are a couple of tips that might help.
Ensure that the breast is fully drained after each feeding
Breastfeed regularly and on schedule
Express or pump breasts between sessions to fully empty them
Avoid positions that put pressure on the breasts
Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing and wireless bras
Know when to seek professional help
Mothers shouldn’t panic if they experience a clogged milk duct. While this can be an uncomfortable and painful condition, it is very normal and will usually go away when immediately addressed. For issues around how to clear a clogged milk duct, or even reassurance on what a clogged milk duct feels like, mothers should contact their doctor for support.