If you are a breastfeeding mom and you suddenly notice a painful lump in your breast, you likely have a clogged milk duct. Clogged milk ducts are a common problem faced by many nursing mothers. Thankfully there are several types of clogged milk duct treatment you can do at home to quickly relieve the pain.
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What are Clogged Milk Duct Symptoms?
Clogged milk duct symptoms can vary in intensity depending on how long you have had a clog and the size (or amount) of backed up milk. These symptoms can make breastfeeding painful and uncomfortable. You may have one or all of the following clogged milk duct symptoms:
- Tender, hard lump
- Pain when nursing
- Redness at the site of the clog
- Breast may be warm to the touch
Note that fever and generally feeling unwell are not common clogged milk duct symptoms. If you are experiencing these type of symptoms, your clogged milk duct may have advanced into mastitis — a breast infection. If that’s the case, call your OBGYN immediately.
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What Causes a Clogged Milk Duct?
There are many causes for a clogged milk duct. Some nursing mothers are predisposed to clogs due to the composition of their breast milk, while other moms may only experience a clogged milk duct once or twice on her breastfeeding journey. Common clogged milk duct causes include:
- Not emptying the breast during a breastfeeding or pump session
- Incorrect or inefficient latch
- Overproduction of milk
- Waiting too long to express milk
- Bra or clothing that is too tight on the breast
- Sleeping on stomach or side
- Incorrect flange size when pumping
- Backpack, purse, seat belt, or anything that causes compression on the breast
- Incorrect positioning from wearing baby in a carrier
- Weaning baby from breastfeeding
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Will a Clogged Milk Duct Eventually Dry Up?
Most clogged milk ducts will naturally dissolve within 24-48 hours if you continue to nurse or pump every 2-3 hours. However as we mentioned above, if the clog does not dissolve it could lead to mastitis. In order to avoid infection and to provide relief to the pain associated with it, we do recommend a few tried and true clogged milk duct treatments. Clogged milk duct treatment can be done at home or work, and in most cases will provide quick relief.
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How to Release a Clogged Milk Duct Using a Warm Compress
One of the simplest and most efficient methods of clogged milk duct treatment is one you can do most anywhere: a warm compress. The instructions for this are simple:
- Wet a washcloth (or paper towel, if at work) thoroughly and ring out excess water.
- Fold the washcloth into quarters.
- Microwave the washcloth for 15-20 seconds OR run under hot water (taking care not to burn yourself) if you do not have access to a microwave
- Let the washcloth cool so that you can hold it. You do not want to burn your skin.
- Place it on your breast for 2-3 minutes.
- Remove for 5 minutes and repeat.
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How to Massage a Clogged Milk Duct
If you can handle the pain, try massaging the clogged milk duct in a clockwise manner through the washcloth as it sits on your breast. Massage toward your nipple to encourage milk to flow in the outward direction. If you are safely able, try breastfeeding your baby or pumping while the compress is on your breast. This will encourage milk to flow out of your breast and hopefully break apart the clog. This clogged milk duct treatment almost always work on small clogged milk ducts.
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In addition to massaging the actual lump or painful spot on your breast, also massage the area in front of the lump toward your nipple. The actual clog is likely located slightly closer to your nipple than where the lump (or milk) has built up. Massaging closer to your nipple will ensure you are applying pressure to the entire duct and increase the likelihood that you will find and break apart the clog.
A warm compress on a clogged milk duct works by bringing more blood into the area. More blood flow into the area will encourage your body to break down the clog. The moist heat will also help the fat in the clog dissolve, thereby allowing your milk to flow freely once again.
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What Does a Clogged Milk Duct Coming Out Look Like?
Most moms will not notice a change in milk whenever a clogged milk duct treatment finally works. However, some moms will express long, sticky strands of built up fat or a glob of milk fat:
This is completely normal. Moms who experience this when releasing a clogged milk duct may find that taking sunflower lecithin will help treat and prevent future clogs. Sunflower lecithin is another clogged milk duct treatment that we recommend as preventative maintenance.
Related article: 10 Most Common Reasons (& Remedies) for Breastfeeding Pain
It’s not fully understood how sunflower lecithin works in breast milk, but one theory is that it reduces the polyunsaturated fatty acids in milk. This, in turn, makes breast milk less sticky. Our moms who have lots of experience with clogged milk ducts love Legendairy Milk’s Sunflower Lecithin. Sunflower lecithin does take a bit longer to break up a clogged milk duct than a warm compress, but used together the two are an almost guaranteed clogged milk duct treatment.
Make sure to check out our article on 12 Clogged Milk Duct Remedies for FAST Relief for additional methods of clogged milk duct treatment.
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[…] Exactly what it sounds like. Take a wet hot compress (don’t burn yourself!) and apply it to your nipple for 2-3 minutes in order to open up the pore. After you remove the compress, immediately nurse your baby or hook up to the breast pump in order to release the plug. Read more about this method in our article here. […]
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