Do I have a blocked milk duct?
7 simple solutions for a clogged milk duct
If you are breastfeeding and you can feel a painful or painless lump in your breast, or even a few lumps together, then it is very likely that this is a clogged milk duct or ducts.
Sometimes there may not be a noticeable lump, but just a little bit of tenderness or pain, or you may even have a low-grade fever of 38.4 degrees or below – but this can be an indication that you may have a blocked duct.
It is also possible to have a clogged milk duct right on the end of your nipple where milk comes out.
There are many pores at the end of the nipple. Milk can come out from all of those pores.
If one of them gets blocked by a little bit of skin covering that area, or even a plug of congealed milk, then milk will be unable to get out at that spot, and this is a nipple blister or nipple bleb.
However, the majority of blocked milk ducts happen within the breast itself.
So what causes clogged milk ducts? One of the most common causes can be engorgement – where your breast has become uncomfortably full to the point of pain.
Engorgement may occur if your baby hasn’t been draining the breast particularly efficiently, or simply because he just went that little bit longer between feeds.
If your breasts become engorged, it may feel as if there is a lot of milk there, but in fact, there is a congestion of blood and lymph and milk, and milk is hanging around going nowhere!
It’s not coming off the breast well, and therefore not much milk is being made. It’s not unusual to get a plugged milk duct in this situation.
Sometimes something simple such as wearing a bra that is too tight or tight-fitting clothes can cause clogged milk ducts.
At other times it could be caused by an inflammation caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, so it may take a bit of detective work to try to pinpoint the reason.
Be assured that this is a common situation that most breastfeeding mothers will encounter at some stage of their breastfeeding journey.
Blocked milk duct treatment
1 – One of the most important things that you can do initially is to feed your baby very frequently. If you can do this, try to feed at least every two hours, and at night, to ensure that milk is flowing, and this blockage will start to resolve.
2 – If you are unable to breastfeed, you can use a breast pump to pump every couple of hours or so, and use hand expression as well. Using your hand can be effective at targeting the area where the blockage is. But whatever means you use, hand, pump, or baby – frequent feeding is essential.
3 – Another effective way to get rid of a clogged milk duct is to use heat and massage. Have a warm bath, or shower and massage your breast while it is still warm, and then feed your baby, pumping your milk or using hand expression straight after, or a combination of all those things will help to clear that blockage.
4 – It could be that the reason you got the blocked duct in the first place was that your baby wasn’t draining the breast well. Maybe he didn’t latch very well, so try different positions and look at the information relating to positions at the breast so that you can have a good understanding of the fact that babies can feed in hundreds of positions. Getting a good latch is a vital part of getting rid of a plugged duct.
5 – If you find that good positioning is still not getting rid of the blocked duct, or they keep coming back, another specific strategy you can try is to place your baby on a flat surface, and kneel on all fours over your baby, and allow your baby to attach at the breast. Massage your breasts downwards towards the nipple while feeding, and gravity will also help too. You may find this to be very effective!
6 – If your baby still doesn’t appear to be effectively draining the breast well I would encourage you to look at the information regarding breast compressions because this is an excellent tool to help you to drain the breast more fully while your baby is attached, and consequently can be helpful to get rid of a plugged milk duct too.
7 – If you do have any pain with the blocked duct or ducts, you may wish to consider taking paracetamol and an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen (as long as you’re not allergic) to help reduce any inflammation that you have. You can also use a cold compress between feeds, which will also help to reduce the swelling.
If you do have a blocked milk duct, it may cause a temporary reduction in your milk supply, but please be assured that milk supply is always in a state of flux, and it can be boosted up again with further feeding and/or pumping.
Another thing to note is that sometimes after you’ve had a blocked duct, the area where the blockage was may remain a little red or inflamed for a few days perhaps, but this is normal, and it will resolve.
So finally, once you have resolved the clogged milk duct, the most important thing you can do now is prevention.
I talk to lots of breastfeeding women and encourage everybody that I see to do hand expression whenever they feel uncomfortably full.
At the slightest sign of engorgement (when it becomes painful), that is the time when milk is ‘hanging around’ and when a blocked milk duct can occur.
Use your hand to get a minimal amount of milk off the breast, and this can prevent a blocked duct.
Blocked milk ducts can lead to mastitis, and this is an unnecessary condition to have to deal with – so prevention is always the most important thing!
Review dates, references & further resources
Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022
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