How to Clear a Blocked Milk Duct

Article By
Published On
21 Mar, 2023
Read Time
3 minutes

The truth is, having a blocked milk duct can be painful and uncomfortable. If a clogged duct isn't unblocked promptly, it could develop into localised swelling and inflammation of the breast, also known as mastitis.

If you're breastfeeding and concerned about blocked milk ducts, try not to worry. There're a few ways to relieve them! This guide is here to help you understand what causes clogged milk ducts and to help you know how to cure them.

What is a blocked milk duct?

Narrow tubes called mammary ducts carry breast milk from the segmented glands (lobules) in the breasts to the nipple. If one of the glands isn't properly drained of breast milk during a feed, the milk can't flow through easily, and the duct can become blocked.

Blocked ducts can be caused by several factors, including if:  

  • your baby has a tongue tie
  • your baby is having trouble latching on
  • your baby misses some breastfeeds
  • the bras you're wearing are tight-fitting and irritating your breast tissue
  • your breasts are engorged.

Blocked milk duct symptoms

Some common signs and symptoms of a blocked breast milk duct to look out for include:

  • areas of the breasts that look darker or redder in colour depending on your skin tone
  • breasts that feel painful or are warmer to the touch than usual
  • feeling a small tender spot or sore lump in the breast
  • baby fussing more when feeding
  • breasts that still feel full even after feeding or pumping.

How to unclog milk ducts

A clogged duct is unlikely to fix itself without intervention. Luckily, there are a few techniques you can try to unclog milk ducts and relieve the pain they cause. These include:

  • Get plenty of rest, eat well, and stay hydrated.
  • Don't stop breastfeeding. You should still feed frequently from the affected breast to try and clear it. Prioritising breast milk removal and keeping your supply flowing lowers the risk of mastitis developing.
  • Breastfeed or express more often if your boobs feel uncomfortably full. But if you have an oversupply of breast milk, don't over-massage or pump excessively.
  • Gently massage the lump using your hand or a lactation massager in the direction of your nipple while your baby feeds.
  • Apply a warm flannel compress or take a warm shower to encourage milk flow before feeds to stimulate milk let-down.
  • Use cold packs after feeding or expressing to relieve pain and
  • Express breast milk after feeding, either by hand or using a breast pump.
  • Check that your baby's breastfeeding position and latch are correct. You can get this checked by your midwife or a lactation consultant.

What if my clogged milk duct won't unclog?

If you're struggling to unclog a blocked duct, don't be tempted to try and pop it. This can lead to a higher risk of infection.

If the blockage hasn't cleared after a day or two, or you notice that your symptoms are getting worse, there may be a risk of developing mastitis, so don't hesitate to contact your doctor.

The symptoms of mastitis are:

  • red, or darkened areas of your breast that feel hot, inflamed, and painful to touch
  • a temperature over 38.4°C
  • flu or fever-like symptoms like aches, a fever, chills, or tiredness
  • nipple discharge that's white or contains blood.

Tips for preventing blocked milk ducts when breastfeeding

  1. Avoid wearing tight clothing, bras or things that restrict your breasts
  2. Avoid sleeping or lying on your stomach, as this can press on the breast and lead to clogged ducts
  3. Check that baby's latch is correct and comfortable for you both
  4. Breastfeed or express regularly and avoid long gaps between feeds or pumping sessions.

Will pumping help a clogged milk duct?

Yes, pumping more often, alongside maintaining your usual breastfeeding schedule, can help relieve clogged ducts. Expressing breast milk encourages it to flow, which can in turn help remove the blockage.

Yes, ibuprofen or paracetamol are safe to take while breastfeeding. That said, it's always a good idea to check with your GP or midwife before taking any medication while breastfeeding. Do note, people who are breastfeeding shouldn't take aspirin.

You can tell that a blocked milk duct is cleared if you can no longer feel a lump and your breast milk is flowing comfortably. You may also see extra thick breast milk come out while you're pumping or hand-expressing.

The blockage in your milk duct should clear after a day or two of treatment, but if you notice that your symptoms are getting worse and the clog isn't clearing, there may be a risk of developing mastitis. Don't hesitate to seek medical support if you suspect you have mastitis.