As breastfeeding moms, almost nothing beats the bonding experience, breastfeeding provides between mother and baby. Holding a cute cuddly baby close as she nurses, enjoying the coos, smiles, and her baby soft skin is a special moment for mom.
But, what if you wake up to a tender swollen lump in your breast, and the usual breastfeeding session is incredibly painful. You could be experiencing one bane of breastfeeding moms everywhere, the dreaded clogged milk duct!
Lactating Moms can experience intense pain, itchiness, and swelling near the lump. The lump can be scary and may lead to a breast infection if it’s not well managed.
What is a Clogged Milk Duct?
There are 15 to 20 milk-producing glands or lobes surrounding the nipple. These lobes are connected to the nipple through piping called ducts. These ducts are responsible for transporting milk from the milk-producing lobes to the nipples during lactation. On occasion, these ducts can develop swollen, tender, and often itchy lump aka a clogged milk duct. Read more on the anatomy of breasts here!
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How to Recognize a Clogged Milk Duct
Symptoms of a clogged milk duct:
- Pain during the milk letdown
- Swelling or inflammation near your lump
- Engorgement around the lump
- Milk blisters, blebs, at the opening of your nipple
- Movement of the lump over-time
Causes of a Clogged Milk Duct
Clogged Milk ducts form due to several reasons:
- Baby skips a feeding: If you miss a feeding, milk remains in your breast, building up and adding to the pressure making clogged ducts more likely.
- Incorrect Latch: If your baby isn’t latching correctly, they may not be able to empty the breasts efficiently.
- Blebs: Blebs are tiny spots that can form at the end of a milk duct and often are visible on the nipple. These blebs are caused by breast milk that is too thick thus contributing to a clog.
- Dehydration and Fatigue for Mom: When you don’t get enough sleep or drink too little water, your milk ducts may become clogged.
- Restrictive Clothing: Tshirts the are too tight or a bra that doesn’t fit correctly. We recommend wearing loose comfortable shirts and a nursing bra that supports you without being restrictive.
- Over Producing Milk Supply: If you are one of the lucky ones, your breast produces too much breast milk thus leading to breast engorgement and plugged milk ducts.
- Breast Engorgement: there are high chances of developing milk build-up and clog ducts if you miss a breastfeeding or pumping session. This tends to happen around the time baby starts sleeping through the night.
Worst is, the inflammation may lead to breast warmth and tenderness to touch, skin redness, a continuous burning sensation, and discomfort during pumping. You may also have fever, chills, and body aches. If the condition is not treated, develop Mastitis. An extreme case would be an Abscess that would require a surgical procedure to drain the pus from the infected area.
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Treating a Clogged Milk Duct
There is no need to fret if you experience a clogged milk duct because there are always treatment options that can help dislodge the blockage and relieve the pain. These options include:
- Massage: Gently massage your breast while moving towards the clog. This may help break down the clog letting milk through and easing symptoms. We recommend placing a warm wet washcloth on the lump for a couple of minutes before massaging as well.
- Warm shower or bath: Apart from clearing your duct for proper drainage, a warm shower or bath can help relieve pain and inflammation.
- Continue to breastfeed: The best way to do that is to feed your baby frequently. Start each feeding process with the affected breast until letdown is initiated.
- Change breastfeeding position: There are high chances that your baby would reach the clog while suctioning from different positions. This facilitates faster drainage.
- Pumping: Try pumping while massaging the plugged breast.
- Antibiotics: Talk to your doctor about antibiotics. For faster pain relief, you can take over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help reduce and manage the breast’s discomfort or inflammation. If symptoms don’t improve please contact your doctor.
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When to see a doctor
If pain and discomfort of the breast persist even after massaging, continue to breastfeed. We recommend you make an appointment with your ob-gyn or primary care physician as you may need antibiotics to treat a possible infection.
Your doctors may also provide some other options for treatment. Still, they may conduct a biopsy or ultrasound to check if you may be developing some conditions like the inflammation of breast cancer. Infections that sometimes would display the same signs of mastitis.
Additionally, you can see a lactation consultant if you notice: low or reduced milk supply or extremely painful breastfeeding that forces you to use bottled milk. Contact your ob-gyn or your local hospital for the closes Lactation consultant near you, or get breastfeeding support here.
For faster treatment and pain relief, you must ensure you follow the treatment suggestion provided or take your medications as prescribed. This would help avoid the recurrence of mastitis or pain during pumping.
Steps your health provider will take to help manage the clogged duct. It’s not safe to pop a clogged duct by yourself.
- Properly wash the infected area with soap and water, then part in dry
- Use a sterilized needle to lift the edge of the duct while avoiding any inward pushing that may cause more significant infections.
- Remove any loose specks of dust or blisters with small scissors or tweezers.
- Wash the area with soap and water while applying antibiotic ointment.
Preventing Clogged Milk Ducts
You can prevent any act of clogged milk duct by following these simple techniques:
- Frequently breastfeeding your baby to avoid milk build-up
- Massaging your breast while pumping to facilitate drainage
- Avoid tight clothes and breast- you need to give you breast a room to breathe
- Vary your breastfeeding positions and angles to facilitate the flow of milk
- Use cool compressors before and after pumping/feeding processes.
- Ensure your breasts are always clean and dry
- Apply creams like lanolin to any cracked nipples protection
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you Pop a Clogged Milk Duct?
The pain you experience may sometimes make you feel like you want to pop the duct by yourself.
Don’t try popping the duct on your own. Doing so can increase your chances of a breast infection.
Is a Clogged Milk Duct the same thing as a Milk Blister?
No, there is a difference between the two. A clogged milk duct is a blocked milk passage as a result of milk build-up. On the contrary, a milk blister is an excess pressure on the nipple caused by either poor or shallow latch by the baby especially latching from unusual angles.
Having a clogged milk duct is the last thing you would wish to have as a mother. The pain and the discomfort may be tempting to pop the duct. However, that may lead to more infection. So, to prevent and manage clogged ducts, ensure: continuously breastfeed your child and massage your breast to avoid milk build-up.
We hope you found these tips helpful for you and your baby. Let us know what you think in the comments below!
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