Breastfeeding is a special act of love from mom to baby who gets his nourishment from mom’s breast milk. It is also a time for bonding with the newborn. However, plugged milk ducts can interfere with this experience.
Clogged milk ducts is a common condition experienced by many breastfeeding moms. It usually occurs within the first 2 weeks of giving birth and can last for about 24-48 hours. Moms are sometimes discouraged when this happens. However, this article provides useful tips to help you find relief so breastfeeding can be a wonderful and positive experience.
What Causes Plugged Milk Ducts?
Milk ducts, also known as lactiferous ducts, are tiny tubes that transfer milk from the mammary glands to the nipples during breastfeeding. Milk also “let down” and flow to the nipples when excess milk is produced in the breasts. The ducts swell and become plugged when the milk is not let out as fast as the breast produces it.
Plugged ducts can be painful and discomforting, although this is not a medical condition and can be prevented if steps are taken early. In severe cases, however, it can cause mastitis or inflammation and infection of the breast tissue.
Clogged Milk Ducts Symptoms
- Swollen or tender breast
- Breast feel sore or warm to the touch
- Pain when breastfeeding
- Whitish substance at the tip of the nipple
- Reddish lumps around the nipple
- Reduced milk flow on one breast
What Causes Plugged Milk Ducts?
- Constricted breasts
- Irregular breastfeeding
- Change in breastfeeding schedule
- Rapid or abrupt weaning
- Breasts not fully drained when breastfeeding
- Plugged nipple (“bleb”)
- Trauma or injury to the breast
- Breastfeeding on one breast more than the other
How to Cure Plugged Milk Ducts
When this condition occurs you may be tempted to quit breastfeeding, especially if you’re experiencing pain. However, continuing to breastfeed is one way to unclog the milk channels. Here are 5 effective ways to relieve clogged milk ducts:
1. Breastfeed more frequently: Frequent breastfeeding is healthy for mom and baby and the breasts usually produce milk to meet the demands of a nursing infant. So put the baby on the breast as often as possible. If practical, you can increase the feedings to about 9 times within 24 hours, which is approximately every 2 and 1/2 hours. Frequent feedings not only keep your child well-fed but also keeps her on a schedule and ensures she gets all the nourishment she needs. It also helps reduce gas and fussing as well as provide an opportunity for the breasts to empty properly.
2. Apply warm compress and massage away: You can relieve pain and loosen a plugged nipple using a warm, moist compress. This treatment is also effective for softening the blockage inside the ducts. You can apply gentle heat to the affected breast by soaking a washcloth in warm water then placing it on the hardened areas of the breast. The best time to do this is right before you breastfeed or express milk. Massaging the breasts while taking a warm shower and during breastfeeding or pumping may also help. Place your hand on the lump and gently rub it in a circular motion.
3. Pump and store milk for later use: Emptying the breast is an important step to take to unclog the ducts and keep the milk flowing efficiently. Some women produce more milk than others. If your milk keeps coming in faster than you finish breastfeeding in one sitting, then you can fully empty the breasts by pumping out the remaining milk with a free breast pump. You may also pump milk in-between feedings and store it away in the refrigerator for use later. Expressing milk for about 10-25 minutes every 3-4 hours can provide relief. This remedy works well for working moms who are unable to breastfeed on a regular schedule.
4. Alternate breasts and change breastfeeding positions: Favoring one breast over the other can cause milk ducts in the other breast to clog. To get some relief, consider switching to the other side breast every time you nurse. For example, if the last feed was on the left breast, the next feed should be on the right. Also try changing breastfeeding positions to help stimulate as much milk ducts as possible. Some popular positions are cradle hold, side-lying hold, cross-cradle hold, and football hold.
5. Wear comfortable bra and clothing: Pressure from tight a bra or clothing can aggravate or constrict the milk ducts and restrict the flow of breastmilk. This can happen particularly if you wear bras with underwires. Sometimes switching bras can make a huge difference. There are bras designed for moms who are breastfeeding. They provide a comfortable fit and good support without constricting your milk-filled breasts.
It is important not to stop breastfeeding if your milk ducts are clogged up. This can cause more milk to backup and even result in mastitis. You should talk with your doctor right away if your symptoms persist or get worse within 2-3 days, or you develop a fever, chills, body aches, or notice a discharge coming from the nipple. These are symptoms of a breast tissue infection or mastitis.