How to Treat a Plugged Duct While Breastfeeding

breastfeeding babyTry as moms might to be ensured their little ones are getting the best nutrition from the time they arrive in the world, many of us run into breastfeeding challenges along the way. One particular ailment women may experience is plugged (also referred to as clogged or blocked) milk ducts.

The complication occurs in the breast where the flow of milk is blocked, usually by clogs of skin cells and milk. When the milk duct fills and stretches, the surrounding breast tissue can become tender. You can recognize a clogged duct by a tender or reddened lump in the breast. It usually occurs in one breast, develops gradually, and causes mild discomfort. Thankfully, getting to the bottom of the root cause while managing the symptoms can make a world of difference for moms experiencing clogged ducts.

How to treat it:


Continue to nurse on the affected side: Postpartum doula and co-founder of Baby Caravan Emily Crocker explains, "If a breast isn’t emptied properly, the milk can get caught in the duct and clog it." For that reason, Crocker advises moms with clogged ducts nurse on the affected side to more fully empty that breast and trigger the flow of milk. Because babies tend to suck strongest at the beginning of a feeding, "try always starting with the breast that has the clogged duct, so that your baby can completely drain it, then always offer them the other breast," she says.

Reposition: "Most of the clogged ducts I see are from a bad latch," explains Crocker. You can help your little one latch and drain the breast better with re-positioning. Crocker recommends positioning your baby with the nose pointed toward the plugged area. This will facilitate drainage by directing suction at the source of the clog. To do, use a breastfeeding pillow (either the Boppy or My Brest Friend) or a regular pillow, which may work just as well. "This helps give the mother and the baby support, so that you can get the baby in the best position, and it helps save your back," she explains.

Compression: Crocker swears by this technique to empty a clog: "While your baby nurses or you are pumping, take your breast between your thumb, and the rest of your fingers -- closest to the base of your breast and far from the nipple -- and squeeze hard, but not so it hurts. This helps to completely empty the breast and can also help with crankiness, because it gets the hindmilk (the high-fat, creamier milk released toward the end of a feeding) to the baby, which helps to fill their belly!"

Warm showers: Allowing warm water to run on the affected breast in the shower will offer relief for breast pain. "Mornings -- when you have the most milk in your breast, and it’s the most painful -- are best," notes Crocker. But be sure not to make the temperature too hot. "When you are suffering from sleep deprivation, a shower that is too hot could make your feel nauseous," notes Crocker.

Warm compress: To help promote milk flow and unplugging of the duct, try a warm compress on the breast for 5 to 10 minutes before breastfeeding. This will not only get circulation moving, but warm the breast and make it more appealing to your baby.

Massage: Frequently massaging the affected breast -- in the shower or whenever you have the chance -- will help alleviate the blocked duct. Hold your breast in both hands and massage from the outside of the breast, working your way toward the nipple, bearing in mind that you're trying to "massage the clogged milk down."

Finally, because a clogged duct could turn into mastitis, Crocker recommends getting checked out by your primary care provider if you have a fever, flu-like symptoms, as well as redness and pain in your breast. And don't forget that doing your best to sneak in as much rest as you can is essential to healing.

Have you ever had a clogged duct? How did you address it?


Image via Corbis

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