If you're breastfeeding and have a tender lump in your breast, it may be a clogged milk duct. This isn't serious, but it needs to be treated right away so it doesn't progress to mastitis. Here are our top 8 tips for relieving a clogged milk duct.
If you're breastfeeding and see that your breast has developed a small, tender, hard lump, you likely have a clogged milk duct (also called a plugged milk duct).
This lump may be sore or painful, and the area around it may be warm, but you won't experience any discomfort apart from the lump.
You might also have a clogged milk duct if your breastmilk looks stringy, grainy or thick, or if your nipple has a small white dot on its opening that doesn't go away.
Clogged milk ducts aren't a serious concern, but they can be uncomfortable, and can restrict breastmilk from flowing properly.
And if it isn't taken care of, a clogged duct could lead to a breast infection, such as mastitis. (Mastitis causes flu-like symptoms, and often requires medical attention and antibiotics.)
So, it's vital to take care of a clogged milk duct as quickly as you can. Fortunately, there are many ways to take care of a clogged milk duct at home. Today, we'll go over 8 ways to relieve a clogged milk duct.
1. Nurse or pump more frequently
One of the most common causes of a clogged milk duct is that your breast is not emptied often enough.
So, getting the milk flowing often, whether it's through nursing or pumping, is the best option to help you unclog your duct.
You should nurse or pump every two hours, or even more frequently than that.
If you choose to nurse baby, offer them the clogged breast first. That way, their sucking will be stronger on the affected breast, since they're the hungriest.
Also, make sure they're properly positioned and latched on, as position and latch are key to effective milk removal (more on this below). Positioning baby so their nose or chin is pointed towards the clog, or trying different breastfeeding positions, may also help them loosen the clog.
If you feel like your affected breast is still clogged and not fully emptied after nursing, pumping for 15 minutes after each nursing session may also help loosen the clog.
2. Make sure baby has the proper position and latch
You may also develop a clogged duct if baby isn't able to remove milk from your breast effectively enough. A comfortable breastfeeding position, and a proper, deep latch, are key to effective milk removal --- and can help prevent future clogged ducts.
If you think baby isn't latching on properly, or you're having trouble positioning baby in a way that lets them remove milk well, you'll need to remedy this as soon as you can. Visit a lactation consultant if you need assistance. This guide to the deep latch technique, written by the lactation consultants at The Pump Station & Nurtury, may also help.
3. Massage your breast
Try massaging out the clogged duct by hand, using a circular motion. Start outside of the lump area, then gently massage towards the lump and on the lump. After that, work towards the nipple area.
Or, you can massage by pressing gently with your thumb, working from the far end of the affected area towards the nipple.
You can also try the same techniques with an electric toothbrush, a specially designed lactation massager, or any electric massager.
Just like you would if you massaged with your hands, focus on the blockage area and work towards the nipple.
Lactation consultant Yines Garcia-Taylor, BSN, RN, IBCLC, shares her tips for clogged milk duct relief:
4. Enjoy a warm shower
Heat and pressure from a shower can help work out the blockage --- and as an added bonus, a warm shower is relaxing!
Stand under a warm shower stream so the spray hits the affected area, and let the stream help remove the blockage. A stronger massaging spray usually works best.
Hand-expressing milk during the shower, or using the hand massaging techniques we covered in #3 while showering, may also help work out the clog.
5. Apply a warm compress
The heat of a warm compress can help unclog your milk duct, just like the heat of a shower can.
There are specially designed warm compresses available for breasts, but you don't need to buy them. A washcloth will usually do the trick.
Wet a washcloth with hot tap water, then wrap it around your breast. Keep it on the breast for at least 15-20 minutes at a time, or for as long as the washcloth stays warm. Then, apply the warm compress again every few hours.
This technique works especially well to help get breastmilk flowing right before you feed baby.
6. Use gravity to your advantage
One way to nurse baby that may help loosen a clog is called "dangle feeding." This involves nursing while you lean over baby, or positioning baby so they're feeding from under the breast, so gravity can help unclog your duct.
You can try a similar technique with pumping --- pump while you lean over, so your nipples point towards the floor and milk can flow down with gravity.
7. Try the castor oil compress technique
Science hasn't proven the castor oil compress technique effective, but many moms swear by it for helping to unclog a milk duct. So, if you've already tried other ways to unclog your milk duct, it may be worth giving this one a try.
Here's how to use the technique:
- Wet and warm a washcloth, as if you were making a warm compress.
- Fold the washcloth at least three times, so it's the size of the breast lump.
- Apply cold-pressed castor oil to the washcloth.
- Place the washcloth on the lump area.
- Cover the washcloth with plastic wrap.
- Use a hot water bottle, another warm cloth, or a heating pad on "low" to apply heat to the lump area. The area should feel warm, but not hot.
- Keep the compress in place for 20 minutes.
- Rinse your breast with water after using the compress, and before you nurse. This way, baby won't ingest castor oil during a feed.
8. Use Epsom salts
Some moms report that soaking the breasts in a warm Epsom salt bath, for around 10-20 minutes, helps unclog a milk duct.
Other moms have used a manual, suction-style breast pump called a Haakaa, and filled it halfway with hot water and 1-2 tablespoons of Epsom salts. They then submerged the nipple in the salt solution as they let suction attach the pump, and left the pump attached for 10-15 minutes.
What if you can't relieve the clog?
If you've tried at least some of the techniques above, a clogged milk duct should clear up within 24 hours.
But if the clog doesn't go away within a few days, or you develop a fever, you likely have mastitis, an infection of the breast. Often, mastitis requires medical attention and prescription antibiotics to clear, so you should talk to your doctor if you suspect mastitis.
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