Plugged Milk Ducts: Unclogging Treatment, Remedies & more

Blocked Milk Ducts During Breastfeeding- Causes, Remedies and Prevention

Medically Reviewed By
Shruti Kanchan (Lactation Specialist)
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Among the many challenges that you will face after giving birth to your baby, starting to breastfeed your tiny tot for the very first time will be one. While it is known to be one of the most satisfying experiences of being a mother and bonds the mother and the child, you can be confronted with some unique challenges now. A common one encountered by many new mothers is of blocked or plugged milk ducts.

Video: Blocked Milk Ducts During Breastfeeding – Causes, Remedies and Prevention

What Is a Blocked or Clogged Milk Duct During Breastfeeding?

While breastfeeding your baby, there will be times when you will feel your breasts getting fuller and engorged. This primarily happens when you are producing more milk in comparison to what is being expressed or consumed by your baby. This condition will lead to what is commonly known as a plugged milk duct, where the entire area around the milk duct is swollen and inflamed. If you inspect your breast, you will feel a hard lump which will cause slight shooting pain or itchiness around the entire area. It is essential to treat this clogged duct situation at the earliest as it could lead to fever. Milk blockage in the breast should be looked into immediately as it could lead to something more severe than just fever.

Causes of Clogged Milk Ducts

The primary reason for the occurrence of blocked milk ducts is because the milk being produced is not being effectively removed either by baby or by expression as frequently as it should be, thus leading to blockage. Milk may not be getting emptied from the breasts due to one of the following reasons:

  1. Your baby is having problems feeding because he is unable to latch on properly or isn’t feeding as much as he should.
  2. You may be using a nursing bra that is too tight, causing damage or compression of the milk duct and the trapping of milk inside the duct.
  3. Using a breast pump that does not exert enough pressure on the breast or exerts too much pressure and suction.
  4. Pumping with the wrong flange size.
  5. The weaning process has been too sudden.
  6. Having a cold or being stressed can cause blocked ducts too. The production of oxytocin (the hormone due to which breasts release milk) can be affected if the mother is under stress.
  7. Surgeries like breast biopsy could have an impact on the draining of milk, thus leading to a blocked duct.
  8. Having an excess of galactagogues and not feeding the baby on demand or letting the baby decide the nursing duration and frequency.

Symptoms of Clogged Milk Ducts

Symptoms of Clogged Milk Ducts

If you have a blocked milk duct, you will notice that your breasts have a hard lump inside or feel ‘tight’. The area around the blockage may feel raw, tender and even have a reddish patch. The patch will also feel hot to touch or swollen, particularly after feeding. In some instances, a blocked milk duct may be painful or tender without the feeling of a lump or puffiness. Local symptoms could also include a painful feeling before the feed and reduced tenderness post the feed, while the clogged areas will feel empty or smaller after you have fed the baby. Mothers could also develop a low fever if they suffer from a blocked milk duct. If fever persists it means the engorgement has escalated to infection and needs medical intervention from the gynaecologist.

What Are the Effects on the Baby?

While a clogged milk duct does not affect your baby, it does make nursing difficult for him. Since feeding involves extra effort, the baby may be reluctant to suck milk from the affected breast as the milk flow will tend to be slower than it usually is. It is also recommended to continue to nurse the baby while the milk ducts are blocked since breast milk has antibacterial properties and keeps the baby safe even if you have an infection due to the plugged ducts. Also, nursing regularly ensures that the blockage is removed.

Treatments for Curing Plugged Ducts While Breastfeeding

As an anxious mother, you would be wondering how to unclog a milk duct and relieve yourself of this condition, the accompanying pain and the discomfort. The most proven way of curing blocked milk ducts is to keep on nursing and emptying the breast of milk. This will reduce inflammation, and you will feel more comfortable nursing the baby.

Treatments for Curing Plugged Ducts While Breastfeeding

Here are a few tried and tested methods of treating plugged ducts that you can try:

  • Begin with the affected breast: It will be painful but make sure you begin nursing from the affected side first as your baby will suck strongly when it is hungry. This may help to unclog the duct. In case your baby is unwilling to nurse on that side, use a breast pump or express milk by hand, as it is necessary to empty the breast.
  • Massage the breast: Massaging the sore area frequently in a firm manner is also an efficient way of treating plugged ducts. It is vital to begin massaging from the outside and slowly work your way towards the affected nipple. You can also relieve the swelling and the pain by applying warm compresses just before you nurse, as this will help in opening the ducts to some extent.
  • Change the nursing position: To ensure that all the ducts are completely drained, change the way you hold your baby. If the cradle hold is your preferred position, you could change over to the football hold. You could also try to nurse your baby lying down sideways. Place your baby close to your breast in a way that its chin points towards the sore area, help him latch on to the nipple and begin nursing. This will help the point of suction to be directed at the clogged duct.
  • Get enough rest: It is critical for you to get as much rest as possible while you are breastfeeding your baby. If you do not have help at hand or have other children to take care of, getting rest may seem like an impossible task. Ask for help from relatives or friends and grab some shut-eye while they are around, tending to the baby. If you are alone, keep all the necessary stuff like diapers, toys, water, feeding cups, etc. nearby so you can avoid movement as much as possible.
  • Medication: If this does not work, try medication after consulting with your doctor, since you are breastfeeding and any medication can affect the baby. Your doctor could prescribe certain pain-relieving medicines to help reduce the inflammation. Cold and hot packs will also help, and you can try both to see which one works for you.

Tips to Get Relief From Blocked Ducts Naturally

Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are also some home remedies to treat a clogged milk duct.

Tips to Get Relief From Blocked Ducts Naturally

  • Taking a hot shower and massaging the breast during the shower ranks higher than most remedies as a practical solution for blocked milk ducts.
  • You can also apply coconut oil to the infected area as this will help to soften the area and reduce the pain to a large extent.

Prevention of Clogged Milk Ducts

Here are a few simple tips to help prevent blocked ducts

  • Choose a well-fitting bra: Getting measured ensures that you pick one which does not apply pressure on any part of your breast, as this may block the flow of milk, leading to blocked ducts.
  • Empty breasts regularly: Being too full can cause blocked ducts. If the baby is not nursing, make sure you express milk regularly.
  • Change feeding positions: Encourage your child to nurse on the side where a blocked duct may be developing. This helps in unclogging the duct.
  • Take anti-inflammatory medicines: Easily available, these medicines reduce inflammation, providing relief.
  • Hot compress: A warm compress applied between feeds is a useful preventive measure.
  • Destress: Lack of rest and stress can aggravate blocked milk ducts. Make sure you try your best to reduce stress by indulging in activities that may keep you relaxed.

When to Seek a Doctor’s Help

If the discomfort caused by blocked milk ducts increases over 24 hours, it is advisable to see a doctor who may prescribe antibiotics for relief.

Although blocked milk ducts are a common phenomenon among breastfeeding mothers, one should take quick remedial action as mentioned above. However, if you do not find any significant changes in your condition, it is necessary to see the doctor and ensure that your condition is not leading to anything serious like mastitis as this will need a different line of remedies.

Also Read: Breastfeeding Your Baby: All You Need to Know to Get Started

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