Tackle Your Breast Pain: How to Treat Clogged Milk Ducts when Breastfeeding

Clogged Milk Ducts

Becoming a mother brings new joys as well as new challenges. During the first few weeks after delivery, your child will require frequent breastfeeding. Breastfeeding your baby has several benefits: providing nutritional value, bonding time, and bolstering your child’s immune system. Once you and your baby learn how to breastfeed, it can be a wonderful experience. It can, however, bring its own challenges and symptoms which you can read about here. Some breast tenderness is normal, particularly during the first few days of breastfeeding, but what does it mean if you start experiencing stronger breast pain? Here’s how to tell if you may have a clogged milk duct, and if so, how to treat it.

Breast tissue is unique because it contains mammary glands; after pregnancy, these glands will start to produce milk for breastfeeding. Normally milk travels through ducts in the breast and out to the nipple; however, sometimes milk can get stuck and back up an entire duct. When this happens, the breast tissue around the clogged milk duct becomes painful and can decrease how much milk you produce in that breast. In some cases, bacteria in the area can cause infection. It is important to distinguish between a milk duct that has simply become clogged and one that has become infected as well, known as mastitis:

  • Signs of a clogged milk duct:
    • Lump or hard spot in the breast tissue
    • Pain at the lump/hard spot
    • Typically affects one breast
  • Signs of mastitis:
    • Breast swelling, pain on one breast
    • Breast tissue redness/red streaks
    • Increased heat around the area of concern
    • Fever or increased body temperature
    • Feeling sick

If experiencing signs of mastitis, see your doctor. For more information on mastitis and its treatment, you can click here.

If you are experiencing a clogged milk duct without signs of infection, you can try the following techniques to remedy the clog:

  1. Warm the breast: Apply a warm compress or take a warm shower prior to breastfeeding to improve circulation at the affected breast.
  2. Perform self-massage before or during breastfeeding: Use one hand to hold the affected breast OR hold your child to the affected breast to feed. With the other hand, place two fingers just outward from the clogged duct. Use these two fingers to gently press behind the clogged duct and massage it in a circular motion toward the nipple. Repeat several times and move on to the next spot, starting outward and moving in toward the nipple as you progress.

The goal is to decrease the lump and improve milk flow through that breast.

  1. Start by breastfeeding on the affected breast first if you can tolerate it and make sure to fully drain the affected breast during feeding.
  2. To prevent clogged milk ducts, some studies show that it is helpful to breastfeed when your child is hungry as opposed to a pre-set schedule. This can mean quite frequent feedings, particularly in your child’s first few weeks.

If symptoms persist, there are specialists who can help. Lactation Consultants can provide education on recognizing when your child wants to feed, proper latching techniques, and other breastfeeding information. Another option is to see a physical therapist that specializes in women’s health; he/she can perform massage techniques, ultrasound treatment, and thermal therapy to treat clogged milk ducts as well as provide education on different self-massage techniques that work for you.

There are many options available if you are experiencing clogged milk ducts. Find out what works for you or enlist the help of a health professional – with a good team and the right techniques, you and your baby can master breastfeeding without the pain.

Olga Bakun
Dr. Olga Bakun earned her Doctor of Physical Therapy from Columbia University. She currently resides in California and practices women's health rehabilitation in the greater Los Angeles area. Olga enjoys painting and exploring the great outdoors.

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