Clogged milk ducts are frustrating for any mother to discover – especially if the plugged duct is impacting milk flow and milk supply. However, a plugged milk duct is a fairly common breastfeeding problem and there are many solutions for resolving them. In this post, we’ll share our tried and true methods for removing clogged milk ducts and preventing them from happening again that every breastfeeding mom needs to know!
A woman can experience a clogged milk duct at any point in her breastfeeding journey, though they are most common during the newborn and weaning stages. Knowing how to prevent them is the first step – but understanding what to do when you have a clogged duct is super important to, especially so you can avoid mastitis.
Not every method works for every person, so it’s important to know different methods to find the right way to clear your blocked duct. I’ve worked with many women and found the best way to prevent and clear clogged ducts!
My most vivid memory of a clogged milk duct was after my second son was born. I had multiple small ones, but then I had an area that swelled up to the size of a kiwi!
It took nearly a week to get that sore lump out of my breast, and it really affected my milk supply. I actually ended up getting mastitis as well, which resulted in needing medical treatment. My son was in the hospital for weight gain issues at this time, as well, so it was hard to manage things very well and nurse him as frequently as I would have liked!
Fortunately, I got through that and I’ve learned a lot more about management of clogged or plugged milk ducts since then! Knowledge is power, and if you are in the midst of a clogged milk duct episode or just looking to prevent them, you are in the right place
What is a Clogged Milk Duct?
First things first- WHAT is a clogged milk duct?
A clogged milk duct is an obstruction in the pathway that brings milk from your breast to your baby. This clogged duct can result in a tender lump in one of your breasts with some redness on the visible skin surrounding the lump.
Despite what many believe, a clogged duct is actually QUITE small – the reason why you may develop a large dump is actually due to the inflammation that occurs when a clog occurs.
If you notice that you have a clogged milk duct don’t get too worked up about it- it’s actually very common and easy to treat. However, make sure you treat the duct as soon as possible to avoid it turning into a more serious issue such as mastitis.
They can result in a temporary decrease in milk supply, which is reason enough for most moms to get them out as quickly as possible. However, since there’s often pain involved, there’s not too much more motivation that is needed!
What Causes a Clogged Milk Duct?
There are many reasons why you might be experiencing a clogged milk duct. We won’t go into these reasons in detail, but here are a few of the most common ones:
- Overly tight fitting bra
- Oversupply of breast milk
- Not emptying the breast frequently
- Baby not transferring milk efficiently
- poor latch
- Repetitive arm movements
- Sleeping on the stomach
How long do clogged ducts last?
Typically, clogged milk ducts last about 1-2 days, though they can last longer. If you have a clogged duct lasting longer than two days, please consult your trusted medical professional. Any suspicious lumps should be evaluated.
Clogged ducts lasting longer than that are also at an increased risk of turning into mastitis or abscessing.
What are some signs of a clogged milk duct?
Most often, you’ll find some kind of pain in your breast. Having a sore breast is often an indicator of a clogged milk duct, even if you can’t physically palpate a lump. Some describe it is a pulling or tugging, or even like a pulled muslce.
Often, there will be some kind of hard lump due to the inflammation. Sometimes it might be a small lump, though sometimes they can be very large.
You may seem some redness in the area as well. Your milk supply may have suddenly dropped, and this can often happen in the early stages before you even know you have a clogged milk duct. These can result in sore nipples and a lot of pain. It’s crazy how much trouble a tiny dot can cause!
There are also milk blisters or milk blebs, which are also obstructions. These occur in the nipple pore and typically as a small white dot – th ough they can be very painful. According to KellyMom, “It occurs when a tiny bit of skin overgrows a milk duct opening and milk backs up behind it.”
What happens if you don’t treat a clogged milk duct?
There are a few things that might happen – one, it might just go away. Some clogged milk ducts do resolve on their own simply from your baby nursing.
However, for others, it may turn into mastitis, where you’d experience flu-like symptoms. It is a breast infection and not very fun. We don’t want your clogged ducts to turn into mastitis! While uncommon, some women end up being admitted to the hospital with mastitis as they turned septic from it going untreated (I have had two friends this happen to!).
It may also turn into a breast abscess, which would require visiting with a medical professional to have it drained.
How to Clear a Blocked Milk Duct
If you are more of a video watcher, make sure you check out this video:
do underwire bras cause clogged ducts?
1. Dangle Feeding
While this method might feel a little bit foreign to you and uncomfortable at first, I absolutely swear by it! This method can be done by getting on all fours and nursing your baby while your breast is dangling. The combination of gravity and suction helps to get the clogged duct out.
There have been so many women who have told us that this is the only way they were able to get their clogged duct out!
This is actually the method I used to get rid of the large clogged duct I mentioned prviously. Here is a video I did on TikTok demonstrating this method:
2. Use Your Baby
One of the most effective ways to get a clogged duct out is just by simply using your baby. Some people suggest pointing the baby’s chin or nose toward the clog, though I’m not sure if there’s much science to back that one up. It’s worth a try, though!
3. Using Heat
You can use just about any type of warm compress on your breast to try and loosen up the milk. We recommend using these Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Gel Packs. Just take the pack and microwave it for 10 seconds before applying it to your breast.
You can also just a regular ol’ heating pad as well. Moist heat is really helpful – I like the Mama’s Milk Wrap by Nustle. It’s AMAZING for this!
You could also use a warm washcloth, take a warm bath, or you could even try getting in a hot shower and letting the warm water stream hit the affected breast. Combine with massage for best results!
Although it may not really help with getting the clog out, some find relief from alternating hot and cold.
4. Massage it Out
If you want to try massaging the lump out of your breast, find the area of the breast with the clog and apply gentle pressure to loosen the clog. You can do this with your hand manually, use an electric toothbrush, or you can purchase a lactation massager. However, make sure you don’t overdo the massaging as you don’t want to make your breast sorer than it already is! It may also cause an inflammatory response, which will just make things worse. Too much pressure can cause damage to the breast as well.
I am a big fan of the Lavie Lactation Massager. You can use them for clogs, as well as to help empty your breasts more fully. You can get 10% off with the TBM10.
5. Epsom Salt Soak
Similar to using heat from warm water in the shower, this method could help loosen the milk clog.
Fill a container with warm water and Epsom salt and place your breast in the container to soak.
While soaking you can try to massage it out, using two methods at once! This soaking technique might be a little bit more uncomfortable if you have a smaller bust.
6. Wear Looser Clothing
It’s said that some clogged ducts can be resolved by wearing looser clothing and bras. Sometimes clogged ducts can be irritated by external pressures or by sleeping on your stomach, putting pressure on your breasts.
7. Use the Haakaa Hack
This is our secret weapon when it comes to removing clogged ducts. Soooo many mothers swear by it!
If you’re interested in learning more about this method I invite you to read our post completely dedicated to it! How to Remove Clogged Ducts with Haakaa: The Secret Weapon All Moms Should Know About.
As a brief summary, this method is done by taking a Haakaa Silicone Breast Pump and filling it with warm water and Epsom salt. You then suction the breast pump to the irritated breast and the suction and heat will work together to draw out the clogged duct.
8. Comb it out
This sounds a little uncomfortable, but I’ve heard other moms swear by using a wide tooth comb to essentially “comb” out the
9. Hand express
Sometimes hand expression can be a good way to get some clogs out, especially as you try and express from different areas of the breast. You might be able to express in away that your baby or a pump isn’t quite reaching.
10. Consult a Healthcare provider
If none of these methods work for you we suggest you get medical attention. As said before, clogged ducts are not too damaging, but if left alone could turn into mastitis or abscess, which do require medical attention. After a few days without being able to unclog the duct if irritation persists and other mastitis symptoms such as a fever start to occur contact your doctor to resolve the issue.
If necessary, a doctor can do needle aspiration on the clogged milk duct. Ultrasound therapy has also been used to break up clogs in the past.
We hope that one of these tactics will be useful for you to get out your clogged duct so that you can get back to comfortably feeding your little babe.
Some women are more prone to clogs than other. There are a few things you can do to fix these issues, though I do recommend working with a lactation consultant to come up with a plan.
Sunflower lechitin is a supplement that many people swear by to help prevent clogged ducts. I would definitely try it out!
In general, the best prevention is feeding on demand, not overpumping, avoid wearing tight fitting clothes and bras, getting enough rest, and treating any areas of engorgement.