Breastfeeding comes with a wide variety of benefits for both you and your baby. Study after study insists that breastfeeding is best. However, there are a few downfalls.
Breastfeeding can also go hand in hand with having a plugged milk duct. Thankfully, most of them resolve on their own with consistent breastfeeding. That doesn’t always happen, though. This is particularly true if you have a clogged milk duct while weaning.
In this article
- What Is A Clogged Milk Duct?
- What Causes A Plugged Milk Duct?
- Can Dehydration Cause A Plugged Milk Duct?
- Clogged Milk Duct While Drying Up
- Signs And Symptoms Of A Clogged Milk Duct
- Signs Of Mastitis
- Treatment For A Clogged Milk Duct
- How Do I Know When A Clogged Milk Duct Is Unclogged?
- In Conclusion
What Is A Clogged Milk Duct?
Your breast is made of different components that help produce milk, and then deliver that milk to your baby. Lobules produce the milk that your baby will eat.
Then, this milk is delivered through the breast via ducts. Ducts are small tubes that the milk goes through. When this tube is clogged, it is a plugged milk duct.
What Causes A Plugged Milk Duct?
The most common cause of a clogged milk duct is residual milk. Imagine that your milk duct is a straw. When you are drinking from a straw, it doesn’t get clogged with old milk.
If you stop drinking from that straw while there is still milk inside of it and leave it to sit overnight, you will discover old milk in the straw in the morning. This is similar to what happens to your milk ducts.
Common causes of plugged milk ducts include:
- Not fully emptying the breast
- Wearing clothing that is too tight across the chest
- Waiting too long between feeding or pumping
- Your baby poorly latching on while feeding
When your breast is left with milk in the ducts or your little one doesn’t latch on properly (this means that they won’t be drinking milk from all of the ducts available) you’re bound to deal with a clogged milk duct.
Can Dehydration Cause A Plugged Milk Duct?
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Dehydration itself will not cause a plugged milk duct. However, it can definitely make you more likely to have one. When you are dehydrated, your milk supply won’t be at its best, and it can change the composition of your milk.
Clogged Milk Duct While Drying Up
It’s extremely common for moms to have a plugged milk duct while drying up. This is because your breasts, and milk ducts, are full of milk.
You’re more likely to get a clogged milk duct when drying up or weaning your baby because of this. Although it is common, you want to make sure that you treat it so that it doesn’t turn into mastitis.
Signs And Symptoms Of A Clogged Milk Duct
When you have a clogged milk duct, it might feel like a lump on your breast. This area might be tender to touch or press on. Other symptoms of a clogged milk duct include:
- A low-grade fever
- Red blotches on breast
- Your breast might feel warmer than your other one
- Your baby might cry while eating from that breast (this is because of the reduced flow of milk)
- Decreased milk supply
Some people will experience all of these symptoms. Other people might only have one or two. The first symptom for some is a low-grade fever, but the first symptom for others might be that their breast is tender.
Because it tends to vary depending on the person, you should watch for all of these signs if you’re concerned that you have a clogged milk duct.
Signs Of Mastitis
One of the primary concerns regarding clogged milk ducts is that they can turn into mastitis. Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that makes the breast red, swollen and inflamed.
It is often due to an infection and does require treatment. If not treated, complications can result. Signs of mastitis include:
- Feeling ill
- Breast swelling and tenderness
- Skin redness (this is typically in a wedge-shaped pattern)
If you’re concerned that you may have lactation mastitis, it’s important to contact your doctor. This condition is often treated with antibiotics.
Treatment For A Clogged Milk Duct
Treating a clogged milk duct involves utilizing several different methods to unclog the duct as soon as possible. The sooner the milk duct is unclogged, the less likely it is to turn into mastitis. These can also be very unpleasant, so you want to get it unclogged as soon as possible.
Continue Breastfeeding Or Pumping
Your breast is swollen and tender, so the last thing you want to do is start a pumping marathon. However, you need to make sure that your breast is completely emptied.
This can help remove the clog. You want to continue breastfeeding and/or pumping as you normally would. Often, the milk duct will unclog itself within two days without further treatment.
Pump Or Hand Express Milk
It’s very common for breastfeeding mamas to get a clogged milk duct when weaning their baby or drying up. This is because of the engorgement.
While you should avoid pumping and hand expressing when you can, this might be the time to pump a little bit to get rid of the clog. It’s necessary to prevent mastitis.
Heat can help reduce inflammation. Applying heat to the clog can also help soften the clog so that it is unclogged sooner. If your breast is particularly tender, this can offer a huge amount of relief.
Use a heating pad for ten minutes at a time. Enjoy relaxing in a warm shower. Moist heating pads are also great. Consider picking up a flexible heat pad if you don’t already have one. These will mold to the shape of your breast better.
Soak The Breasts In Warm Water With Epsom Salts
It’s going to be a bit complicated to only soak your breasts, so take your time running a relaxing bath for yourself. Enjoy a twenty-minute soak. The warm water will help loosen up the clog while the Epsom salts will help you find relief from the pain.
Change Feeding Positions
Sometimes, you want the baby breastfeeding and/or gravity to work more in your favor. This is particularly true if you have a clogged duct.
First, try changing the position of the baby so that their chin is pointing downwards towards the clog. This will mean that they are sucking more from that duct, which can help release the clog.
You can also try feeding your baby on all fours to let gravity do its job.
Wear Loose Fitting Clothing
This includes bras. Avoid tight clothing and bras that have an underwire in them. If you don’t have any, cut the underwire out of a few of your older bras. Having something pushing against the breast all day can make the clog worse. It can also make it much more painful.
Don’t Pick At It
When you notice that little red bump, it can be tempting to rub it between your fingers in an attempt to break up the clog from the outside. Avoid doing that. It can actually make things much worse. Instead, stick with the above methods or give your doctor a call.
Massaging your breast can be painful when you have a plugged milk duct, but it can help unclog it quicker than leaving it alone. Massage your breast several times a day to help the clog clear itself out sooner instead of later.
Clogged Milk Duct Won’t Unclog
Sometimes, you just have a clog that won’t seem to unclog. First, you want to implement as many of the methods above as possible.
Make sure that you empty your breasts every time you’re feeding. Pump or hand express milk. On top of that, you want to massage the breast and use moist heat.
If you’ve done that, it’s time to call the doctor. Doctors can use other methods, such as ultrasound therapy to help remove the clog. If you’re concerned, make sure that you contact your doctor.
How Do I Know When A Clogged Milk Duct Is Unclogged?
You’ll be able to tell whether your milk duct is unclogged by how it feels. The lump in your breast will feel smaller than it did before. your symptoms will slowly start to fade away.
Keep in mind that you might still have tenderness and other symptoms for up to one week afterward. It simply takes time. Use moist heat to find relief in the meantime.
Having a clogged milk duct is surprisingly common, but when you have one that won’t unclog it can be concerning. Use a variety of methods at the same time to help unclog your milk duct as soon as possible to avoid mastitis.