Breast milk - Milk
Author: TLN

Clogged Milk Ducts: What You Need to Know

Learn our tried-and-true tips for getting rid of pesky clogged milk ducts

Breastfeeding is going well… and then all of a sudden, you’re dealing with limited output and a painful area on your breast. What’s going on? Even though breastfeeding is a natural way to feed your child, it doesn’t come without its challenges—including clogged milk ducts. Here are the signs of a clogged duct and our real-mom advice for getting that milk flowing again.

Symptoms to watch out for

A clogged milk duct is an area where milk is not draining from the breast due to an obstruction. This causes a build-up of milk in the breast (think of it as a breast milk traffic jam). The clog typically builds slowly and is localized in one breast. You may experience a lump or area of engorgement; a feeling of fullness where it’s not draining; soreness, tenderness or swelling; pain or discomfort during or after feeding on the affected breast; and decreased supply or pumping output.

What causes this milk duct back-up? Clogs usually pop up due to engorgement, not fully emptying the breast during a feeding, a skipped feeding, constriction from your bra or sleeping on the area, or even excess stress. 

Tips and tricks for getting rid of milk duct clogs

If you get a clog, it, unfortunately, won’t go away on its own. And it’s important to clear it before it turns into an infection. Thankfully, there are plenty of techniques to help get that milk flowing again. Try one, try them all! Here are our go-to methods for getting rid of clogs:

  • The number one thing to do is nurse and pump frequently. Add in extra nursing or pumping sessions and be sure to fully empty your breasts each time. When nursing, offer the affected breast first when baby will typically nurse more vigorously. While pumping, you can increase the suction a bit (but not so high it hurts your nipples). Whatever you do, don’t delay or skip feedings or pumping sessions.
  • Avoid restrictive clothing, tight bras, sleeping on the breast and holding your baby or diaper bag against the area.
  • Apply heat before and during feeding or pumping. Use a heating pad, warm compress or Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 breast therapy packs. Or hop in a hot shower.
  • Massage the clogged area with your hand, a vibrating item like the handle of an electric toothbrush, a LaVie lactation massager, or a soaped-up wide-toothed comb in the shower. Begin near the chest and stroke toward the nipple—or massage in front of the clog (on the side closest to the nipple) to clear the obstruction first. You can also try jiggling the breast to loosen the clog (seriously!). Start with gentle pressure and build up to more firm pressure.
  • Experiment with different nursing positions. You can point your baby’s chin in the direction of the clog as this may massage the area and apply stronger suction. Or try “dangle nursing” (or “dangle pumping”) by getting down on your hands and knees with your baby underneath you (or pump flanges pointed downward). This allows good old gravity to help you out.
  • Gently clean your nipples with a wet washcloth to remove any dried milk or clear any small blebs that may be obstructing milk flow.
  • Try the Haakaa trick: fill a Haakaa or other silicone breast pump with warm water (and Epsom salt if you’d like), attach to your breast and let your nipple soak. It may take a few rounds, but the pump’s suction can gently pull out the clog.
  • Take lecithin, a supplement that thins the “stickiness” of milk so it flows more easily. A regular dose can help prevent clogs from forming. Some moms find their babies don’t tolerate soy lecithin, so many use sunflower lecithin. It’s a good idea to run any supplements by your doctor first.
  • Ibuprofen can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Slip an ice pack in your bra after feeding or pumping to cut pain and inflammation. The gel ice packs with soft covers that are made for kiddie bumps and bruises are perfect for this purpose!
  • Enlist help from your partner. They can massage your breast and apply pressure if the clog is too painful or in an awkward spot—or (TMI!) try to suck it out if you get desperate.

Prone to clogs? An IBCLC can help you find the root cause and prevent this common breastfeeding ailment, whether that involves correcting latch or milk transfer issues, managing an oversupply or making sure you’re using the right-size flanges and pump settings to fully empty your breasts. 

If you’re not able to clear a clog, be sure to reach out to an IBCLC or your physician for further help to prevent mastitis and infection. If you start to experience redness on your breast, increased pain or swelling, fever, chills or body aches (some moms describe it as feeling like they’ve been run over by a truck!), you may have mastitis and need antibiotics or medical help. Call your doctor ASAP—infections are nothing to mess around with.

To find the best insurance-covered breast pump for you or connect with an IBCLC who can help you prevent and clear clogged ducts, reach out to our team at The Lactation Network. We have the resources to support your breastfeeding journey (and keep that milk flowing!).