Clogged Milk Ducts While Breastfeeding

A total pain in the boob: What to do about clogged milk ducts when breastfeeding.

clogged milk duct breastfeeding women

tali ditye author mommyhood101  By: Tali Ditye, Ph.D., Co-founder
  Updated: April 29, 2023

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Breastfeeding is a beautiful bonding experience between mom and baby that can have lasting positive health impacts throughout the lifespan.

But breastfeeding can also become challenging at times when the ducts that move milk through the breast towards the nipple become clogged, swollen, painful, and infected.

What is a Clogged Milk Duct?

A woman's breasts are full of a complex web of milk ducts that help move and direct the produced milk through the breast and towards the nipple. Sometimes breastfeeding mothers' ducts can become clogged or plugged. A clogged milk duct usually results in a hard lump in the breast that is sore and tender to the touch, and sometimes also appears with redness.

In severe cases, a clogged milk duct can become infected, which is called mastitis and usually makes the mother feel achy, run down and feverish. 

What causes a clogged milk duct?

A milk duct becomes clogged when milk does not drain completely from the duct. This is quite common in breastfeeding mothers.  Clogged milk ducts can occur for a variety of reasons such as short or skipped feedings of your baby, a breast pump that is not properly sized for your breasts and/or nipples, a breast pump that is not functioning properly, a poorly-fitted nursing bra, stress, or an illness such as a cold or virus.

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Despite how common they are, clogged ducts can result in an infection (mastitis) if they are left untreated.

What can I do to help clear a clogged milk duct?

The best advice for clearing a clogged milk duct is to nurse your baby very often, and for as long as possible. Nursing your baby is the best way to cure a clogged milk duct, which will help with the discomfort and swelling. While nursing, you should also try massaging the sore area of your breast with a firm hand, starting at the top of the breast and working down towards the nipple; you can also try to place warm compresses on your breast before and during feeding.

You can also try to vary your nursing position, such as switching from what you usually do to a cradle hold, a football hold, or nursing while lying on your side (with baby lying on its back next to you). 

There are also some homeopathic remedies that you can try, such as echinacea, lecithin and Boobie Tubes! You should talk to your doctor before trying any of these remedies. Your doctor might also suggest that you take ibuprofen to help relieve pain and inflammation.

The other thing you do to help clear a clogged milk duct is get some rest. Take naps when your baby naps, and try not to physically or mentally exert yourself. Wear a comfortable nursing bra. Let the dishes and laundry pile up for a few days, and soon you'll be on your way towards recovery.

What can I do to prevent a clogged milk duct?

Many doctors recommend that you feed your baby at normal intervals, such as every 2 or 3 hours. When you cannot feed, use a breast pump.

This will help keep the milk flowing at a consistent rate, and help your breasts adjust to the demand and produce the perfect amount of milk for your baby. You may also try to find a bra that fits comfortably and not too tightly.

Will a clogged milk duct hurt my baby?

No; in general, a clogged milk duct will not hurt your baby. Sometimes your milk flow may be slower on the breast with the clogged duct. You do not need to worry about the bacteria, your breast milk has antibacterial properties that will prevent your baby from being affected by the clogged duct.

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