Clogged milk ducts are an uncomfortable part of nursing at times. Here’s expert advice on how to unclog a milk duct while breastfeeding and how your baby can help.

I had breastfed for months before I experienced a clogged duct. My baby had skipped a feeding during the night. Hooray for sleep! But then the morning came, and I immediately felt the lump in my breast. I quickly learned the right way (and the wrong way) how to unclog a milk duct while breastfeeding.

There are several ways to help a clogged milk duct unclog. I learned most of them in my years working with lactation consultants. Thankfully all of that information came in handy on my own breastfeeding journeys. Though uncomfortable, clogged ducts rarely turn into bigger problems when you know how to take care of them.

How can I tell if it’s a clogged milk duct?

At times it can be tricky to tell if you are experiencing a blocked milk duct, mastitis, or engorgement. Let’s take a look at the differences between these.

A plugged milk duct is when one or more milk ducts are plugged with too much breast milk. This usually takes care of itself, but you can help it along. You may feel an uncomfortable lump in one breast. It also may feel “full.” Sometimes it feels so full that it feels like “it’s going to pop” if it isn’t taken care of.

Mastitis is inflammation in the breast caused by a breast infection. Common symptoms of mastitis include increased body temperature (fever), moderate to severe pain in an area of the breast, and body aches. Signs of infection of the breast like mastitis can mimic flu-like symptoms. If you are experiencing any mastitis symptoms, call your healthcare provider. You may need an antibiotic. You may also need an appointment with your certified lactation consultant, a breastfeeding specialist. One of the leading causes of mastitis is wearing underwire bras. No underwire while breastfeeding!

Engorgement is the painful overfilling of the breasts, which is temporary and can be relieved with these 8 tips to help breast engorgement. You may experience engorgement once your milk first comes in or if your baby skips a feeding. This is common when solid foods are being introduced or you are weaning. Engorgement is usually felt in both breasts. The breasts will feel hard, full, like rocks, and warm to the touch.

How to Unclog a blocked milk duct while breastfeeding

Unfortunately, a plugged duct may be part of your breastfeeding journey. Common causes are if your baby skips a feeding or if you have been pumping more to increase your supply. A build-up of breast milk can occur. Another cause is if your baby’s latch was a poor latch and they didn’t empty the breast as usual. A painful lump can occur on the affected side of the breast from a blocked duct.

A clogged milk duct is a common breastfeeding problem. It usually resolves on its own with a little help from you, but contact a lactation specialist if needed. Common concerns with milk ducts is that they won’t unclog easily or that they will turn into a breast infection. This is rare.

Signs of a clogged duct:

  • A small, hard lump in your breast
  • A tender, small lump in your breast
  • The bump may look red and irritated
  • Feeling like your breast won’t empty after nursing or pumping
  • Area of engorgement around the lump
  • Discomfort or pain in the lump area
  • The tender area may feel warm to the touch
  • Feeling the need to express the breast milk (“overly full”)

How to Unclog a blocked milk duct while breastfeeding

There are several ways to help unclog a blocked milk duct.

Taking a hot shower and letting the hot water sit on the affected area with the tender lump can prepare the clogged area to unclog. A warm shower or warm bath can also do the trick. Be sure to soak the affected breast well. Using warm compresses or a heating pad works well if you don’t have time to take a shower. Warming the area of the breast with the clogged duct can encourage milk flow.

Another trick is to soak the area of the breast in a bowl of warm water. Using a large mixing bowl, fill 3/4 of the way full with water. Microwave for 30 seconds or until warm. Soak the affected area in the bowl for several minutes to encourage milk flow. Adding one tablespoons of epsom salts can feel soothing, but this is optional.

Nurse your baby as soon as you can after using one of the methods above to warm your breast. Using different breastfeeding positions can help unclog the duct as your baby nurses. Sometimes holding your baby at an angle toward the clogged duct also helps. Don’t be surprised if when the duct unclogs, you have a large flow of milk. Your baby may start gulping or your nipple may shoot milk across the room. This relief will be welcomed!

How to Unclog a blocked milk duct while breastfeeding

If nursing doesn’t unclog the duct quickly, try breast massage as you nurse. Start with gentle pressure. Using gentle massage on the duct, go in a circular motion while your baby nurses. This pressure can encourage the duct to release as your baby is encouraging milk flow while they breastfeed. Breast massage while feeding or using a breast pump may be the best way to unclog a milk duct.

If massage while nursing didn’t work, pump for a few minutes after your baby is finished nursing while continuing to massage. If needed, replace gentle pressure with medium pressure, as you start at the top of the clog, and push downward toward the nipple. Repeat several times. Then allow the breast to rest, even if the duct hasn’t released yet. Overly pumping can stimulate you to produce more milk or cause sore nipples which can create problems on their own.

If you are in pain, taking over the counter pain medicines can help with the discomfort that comes with a clogged milk duct. Ibuprofen is a good one that helps relieve swelling, inflammation, and pain and is safe to take while nursing.

You may also like 12 Ways on How to Increase your Breast Milk Supply

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Rachel is a Postpartum Nurse of 15+ years. She is also a Spinning Babies® CPE, Childbirth Educator, Published Author, and Recipe Creator. Rachel's passion is to encourage and empower women in all things related to motherhood.

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