This guide is here to help you understand what causes clogged milk ducts and to let you know what you can do about them.
If you're breastfeeding and concerned about blocked milk ducts, try not to worry. This guide is here to help you understand what causes clogged milk ducts and to let you know what you can do about them.
What is a clogged 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 drained properly as a baby breastfeeds, the breast milk can't flow through easily, and the ducts can become blocked.
Your breast milk ducts may become blocked if your:
- baby has a tongue tie
- baby is having trouble latching on while breastfeeding
- baby misses some breastfeeds
- bras are too tight fitting and irritate your breast tissue
- breasts are engorged
The truth is, clogged milk ducts can be painful and uncomfortable, and if they’re not dealt with promptly, they can lead to a complication called mastitis. This is localized swelling and inflammation of the breast.
Blocked milk duct symptoms
Some of the common symptoms of a blocked milk duct can be uncomfortable. The signs and symptoms to look out for include:
- breasts that feel painful
- breasts that are warmer to the touch than usual
- breasts that still feel full even after feeding or pumping
- areas of the breasts appearing darker or redder in color depending on your skin tone
- feeling a small tender spot or sore lump in the breast.
You may also notice that your baby fusses or cries more when feeding because they're struggling to get milk out.
How to unclog milk ducts
There are a few techniques you can try to unclog milk ducts and relieve the pain they cause. These include:
- Getting plenty of rest, eating well, and staying hydrated, even if you're feeling under the weather.
- Continuing to breastfeed and still feeding frequently from the affected breast to try and clear it. Prioritizing breast milk removal and keeping your supply flowing lowers the risk of mastitis developing.
- Breastfeeding or expressing 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 massaging the lump in the direction of your nipple while your baby feeds using your hand or a lactation massager.
- Using a warm flannel compress or taking a warm shower to encourage milk flow before feeds to stimulate milk let-down.
- Using cold packs after feeding or expressing to relieve pain and
- Expressing milk after feeding, either by hand or using a breast pump.
- Asking a Lactation Consultant to check your baby’s feeding position.
You can tell that a blocked milk duct is cleared if you can no longer feel a lump. You may also see extra thick breast milk come out while you're pumping or hand-expressing.
Will a clogged duct go away by itself?
The blockage in your milk duct should clear after a day or two of treatment. However, if you notice that your symptoms are getting worse and the clog isn't clearing, there may be a risk of developing mastitis.
The symptoms of mastitis are:
- red, or darkened areas of your breast that feel hot, inflamed, and painful to touch
- a temperature over 101°F
- flu or fever-like symptoms like aches, a fever, chills, or tiredness
- nipple discharge that’s white or contains blood.
Don’t hesitate to seek medical support if you suspect you have mastitis.
What should I do if a clogged milk duct won’t unclog?
If you're struggling to unclog a blocked duct, don’t be tempted to try and pop it because this can lead to a higher risk of infection. If none of the recommendations we've listed above work for you, you should seek medical help from a doctor or midwife to reduce the risk of the clogged duct leading to mastitis.
Tips for preventing blocked milk ducts when breastfeeding
Although blocked breast milk ducts are very common, following these steps may help you to prevent your milk ducts from becoming clogged in the first place:
- avoid wearing tight clothing, bras, or things that restrict your breasts
- avoid sleeping or lying on your stomach, as this can press on the breast and lead to clogged ducts
- check that baby’s latch is correct and comfortable for you both
- breastfeed or express regularly and avoid long gaps between feeds or pumping sessions.
Will pumping help a clogged milk duct?
Expressing breast milk encourages it to flow, which can help to remove the blockage and relieve any discomfort. So yes, pumping more often while maintaining your usual breastfeeding schedule can help relieve clogged ducts.
Can I take painkillers for pain in my milk duct?
Yes, ibuprofen or acetaminophen are safe to take if you're breastfeeding. It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before taking any medication while breastfeeding. It’s also important to note that people who are breastfeeding shouldn’t take aspirin.
- Clogged Milk Ducts: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment for Plugged Ducts (whattoexpect.com)
- A Pain in the Boob: Clogged Milk Ducts and How to Clear Them (exclusivepumping.com)
- Clogged Milk Duct: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention, and More (healthline.com)
- Clogged Milk Duct: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment (clevelandclinic.org)
- Blocked Milk Duct - Breastfeeding Support