A blocked milk duct (sometimes called plugged or clogged milk duct) is an obstruction of one or more ducts carrying milk to the nipple of the breast.
If left untreated, a clogged duct can lead to Mastitis (inflammation and sometimes infection of the breast).
Symptoms of a blocked duct could include:
- Tender lump, possibly also redness of the skin over the lump
- Low fever
- Pain of the breast
- Slow milk flow
- A small white blister on the nipple (milk bleb)
- Swelling or redness of the breast
- Areas that are warm to touch
Blocked ducts are a common breastfeeding problem and can occur for a number of reasons. The most common cause is incomplete drainage from part of the breast, creating a milk back up and blockage.
Other causes include:
- Infrequent breastfeeding
- Poor latch
- Tight clothing
- Trauma to the breast
- Thickened milk
- Breast pump; especially during the first week weeks of introducing
- A nipple bleb
- Over production of milk, without ability to drain the breast
- Over exercise
As soon as you notice a clogged duct you are going to want to try these tips and tricks to prevent an infection.
- Breastfeed Often: make sure your baby is latching on deeply. Seek the advice of a lactation consultant if you need help with your baby’s latch.
- Breastfeed often: every hour or on-demand to keep your breast milk flowing through the ducts.
- TIP: start feeding your baby on the side with the plugged milk duct first. Baby’s suck will be stronger at the beginning of a feeding, which may help to remove the blockage.
- TIP: try to position baby so that their nose or chin is toward the plugged duct. They may be better able to dislodge the blockage in these positions.
- TIP: dangle feeding (nursing while leaning over your baby, so that gravity can help free the blockage)
- Apply heat to the clogged area before each feeding to help with the flow of your breast milk through your ducts.
- Gently massage the affected area while applying heat, and while you’re breastfeeding
- Try breast compressions while your baby is actively sucking & swallowing to help build pressure to dislodge the plugged duct
- Use cold compresses after feedings for comfort
- Gently massage breast under a warm shower
- Wide tooth comb in the shower, gently massage over clogged duct toward nipple
- Try a vibration/lactation massager. An electric toothbrush works well but if you are prone to clogs, a lactation massager is a good investment.
- Epsom salt in a Haakaa pump. Put 1-2 tablespoons of epsom salt and warm to touch water into a Haakaa pump. Your nipple should be submerged when you suction it on. Keep it on for 5-10 minutes.
- Warm water in a bowl with epsom salts. This can be helpful to have more of the breast tissue submerged
- To keep milk ducts from clogging in the first place, breastfeed your baby often to keep the milk flowing. Try to not skip feedings or wait too long between feedings.
- Change breastfeeding positions with each feeding to allow your baby to drain different areas of your breast.
- Avoid restrictive or too tight of clothing. You do not want excess pressure on your breasts.
- Stay hydrated.
Remember to seek medical attention if the lump does not go away within three days, is excessively red or increases in size. If at any time you feel generally unwell, have flu-like symptoms, or are feverish you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.