Clogged Milk Ducts

Clogged milk ducts can happen at any point in your breastfeeding journey, and happen for a variety of reasons. Some of the common ones are:

• Wearing a bra that is too tight, always use an adapted nursing bra.
• Not letting baby empty the breast
• Exhaustion

It is important to know the signs of clogged ducts and work on resolving them because if left untreated they can develop into mastitis (an infection in your breast).

Signs of a clogged duct

Women have between 15-20 milk ducts in each breast. Your baby empties each duct every time she feeds. The first symptom of a clogged duct is usually pain in the area of the plug. The skin surrounding the duct may or may not be red. If you feel where it is painful, you will most likely feel a hard lump that hurts when you push on it. You may also notice a decreased milk supply from the effected breast (because one of the ducts that supplies milk is clogged). You may notice the pain worsens during feeding, especially during letdown. Plugged ducts usually only effect one breast at a time.

How to resolve it

If you are experiencing a lot of pain, and the clogged duct is accompanied with a fever or flu like symptoms you should see your health care provider. If you notice a sore lump, try a warm compress prior to feeding your baby. Wet a facecloth with warm water and massage the lump with it. Or jump in a hot shower and massage the lump while the hot water runs on your breasts.

Feed your baby!

Feed more frequently and ensure you have a good latch so babe can take big sucks and swallows, encouraging the plugged duct to release. Massaging the plugged duct while feeding will encourage the clog to release. Massage towards the nipple when feeding. Start each feed with the effected side until you feel relief. If this hurts too much, start baby on the other side and switch to the effected breast after your milk lets down. Most mamas feel some relief after feeding. Pump after feeds to speed up resolving the issue. Try a cool compress for relief after feeding. If you’re sore and uncomfortable, it is safe to take ibuprofen and tylenol.

Rest.

This is not the time to ramp up your post-partum exercise. Your body is trying to resolve the plugged duct and avoid infection. Cancel your outings, and hang with your baby at home. Fill a water bottle and make sure you are taking in enough fluids.

Don’t panic if you express “strings” or grains of thickened milk or fatty looking milk, this is the plug coming loose and sometimes expels through the nipple. It can be normal to feel bruised for a week or so after the plugged duct resolves.

To avoid plugged ducts altogether, don’t time feeds. Clock watching shouldn’t be a factor in breastfeeding. Instead, watch your baby. Allow her to completely drain one breast, before switching to the other. Big sucks and swallows should be seen. When she slows, do breast compression (squeeze and hold), which will encourage her to take big sucks and swallows again. Once she starts to slow and compression is no longer encouraging her to suck, take her off the breast and burp her. Then offer the other side. Use our tracker to help you keep track of what breast you finished on, as that breast will be the one you start with the next feed.