Clogged milk ducts can feel as small as little marbles or as large as golf balls in your breasts. They are often uncomfortable – tender to touch or even painful. Sometimes the skin is red and hot where the blockage is. If left alone, a clogged duct can sometimes lead to mastitis which is a breast infection. Most of the time clogged ducts clear on their own in 24-48 hours or even after one good feed. If not, you’ll want to take action.
Why Milk Ducts Get Clogged & How to Prevent it
It’s helpful to determine the cause of the clogged duct so you can work to prevent future clogs. Clogged milk ducts happen for a number of reasons. Clogged ducts often occur when there is a change in the way your baby has been feeding (they are feeding less frequently or just feeding on one breast at each feed), your baby is not draining the breast well and/or the latch isn’t good.
Have your baby positioned well at the breast – the nipple should be pointing up towards the roof of their mouth, their chin should be far away from their chest and there should be space between your breast and your baby’s nose. Make sure your baby has an effective latch – their mouth should be wide and the top and bottom lips should flare out and be relaxed so that there is no nipple pain with each suck. A deep latch will help your baby drain the breast well, ideally they will take both breasts at each feed and be satiated after feeds. Here are some helpful videos.
How to Clear at Clogged Milk Duct at Home
The following are some things you can do at home to help clear a clog: Put a heat pack on your breast where the blockage is for 1-2 minutes just before you start feeding your baby. Position your baby at the breast so that his or her chin is pointing to the clog. For example, if the clogged duct is on the side of your breast below your armpit, you might consider positioning your baby in the football position where he or she is laying on their side.
During feeds, try to compress the breast just behind the blockage so you are pushing the clog towards your nipple helping your baby pull out the thick milk stuck in the duct.
Consider pumping after feeds to help pull out the slower milk flow that your baby could not access. For stubborn clogs, take the handle end of an electric toothbrush, turn it on and massage the blockage for 1-2 minutes, then feed or pump – the vibrations can help break up the thick milk stuck in the ducts.
Ultrasound Therapy for Blocked Milk Ducts
If you’ve tried all the above, consider getting an ultrasound treatment. Sound waves from the ultrasound can help break up the thick milk stuck in the ducts.
An appointment with a lactation consultant can also help. The consultant can take a look at your baby’s latch and if need be show you how to improve it, show you how to compress and massage the blocked area during a feed and help you manage the feed best so that your baby drains the breast well and prevents future blockages from occurring. Ultrasound treatment and lactation consults are available at Oona in Newmarket and Toronto.