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I don’t think that I’ll make a discovery by saying breastfeeding is not an easy work! It’s the whole new world to say the least, with its ups and downs, moments of eternal joy and excruciating pain.
There are quite a few breastfeeding problems any mom could come across with, especially a new one. I wasn’t an exception. Although, when I just stepped on my breastfeeding journey, I got off with a scratch thinking that my biggest problem was low milk supply (which it wasn’t. I actually, had no problems at all!) In my case, the real problem stroke much later when I didn’t even think it could.
When my baby was over one-year-old, I’ve experienced all the beauties of plugged milk ducts for no less than 5 times in four months! It was one big breastfeeding hell for me that time. My symptoms started roughly. I instantly ran high fever and had pain in my breast with NO reason! I’m saying no reason because my child was still breastfeeding on demand, I changed breasts frequently and there just couldn’t be any causes for lactostasis. It was so frustrating for me.
I’ve tried many things from frequent nursing to taking antibiotics (prescribed by the doctor, of course). But the problem with plugged milk ducts was haunting me for months! And as soon as my one breast recovered from it, my other breast was affected in less than 3 weeks.
I’m telling you, C-R-A-Z-Y!
It made me devour tons of information to figure out what this problem was about and why I wasn’t able to treat it for good the first time.
And here’s what I found out.
DON’T MISS THIS ARTICLE: 10 REAL CAUSES OF BREAST SAGGING (AND THEY ARE NOT WHAT YOU THINK!)
What is Plugged or Clogged Milk Ducts?
The ducts in our breast play a crucial part in breastfeeding process. They help to deliver milk from the alveolar cells located deep in our breast (they actually make milk) straight to the nipple. A clogged (blocked) milk duct means that there is a part of breast where the milk can’t flow really well thus building up an obstacle for the next portion of milk preventing it from passing through. This triggers breast tissue to tighten.
You can recognise a clogged milk duct as a hot, red and painful patch on your breast. The tension and soreness of the milk gland can be preserved even after it has been emptied when breastfeeding. This is when you can run a fever.
Possible Causes of Plugged Milk Ducts
Although you can get a plugged milk duct because of various reasons, there are two main causes for it:
- Oversupply (engorgement)
- Poor drainage of a milk gland due to clogging or narrow milk ducts.
Here are some other reasons for getting a clog in your breast.
10 Most Common Reasons for Developing a Clogged (Plugged) Milk Duct:
- Size-discrepancy between the active functioning of the glandular tissue that produces milk and the diameter of the milk ducts (usually happens right after the delivery)
- Poor latch, initiating poor milk drainage that leads to a clogged duct
- Flat or cracked nipple, which makes breastfeeding difficult
- Never changing your nursing position. This can lead to a clog
- Feeding schedule changes. If you had to skip a feeding session and didn’t pump or your baby finally started sleeping through the night, your body needs time to get used to this change. An abrupt change in breastfeeding schedule may result in a plugged duct from oversupply
- Stress that leads to spasms in milk ducts blocking the way for milk to pass through
- Wearing a tight bra. Continuous pressure on your breasts may result in impeded milk flow which in its turn may form a clog. Sleeping on your belly is not recommended as well for the same reason
- Abrupt weaning. Ideally, you would want to start weaning smoothly so that your body has time to get used to reduced feedings and lower your milk supply. A rapid weaning may cause multiple clogged ducts. So make sure you take it slow
- Difficult outflow of milk from the lower part of the large breast (especially if it’s sagged)
- Hypothermia (if you got really cold) resulting in narrowed milk ducts
Don’t ignore a clogged duct hoping it will get better. It will NOT clear up by itself. You need to deal with it as soon as possible! A clogged duct can lead to mastitis (inflammation of the breast tissue)
8 Quick and Easy Ways to Treat Plugged (Clogged) Milk Ducts
- Nurse on demand. The best way to deal with a blocked milk duct is to nurse-nurse-nurse more frequently than you used to. Change breasts frequently (to prevent problems with milk ducts with a healthy breast). Make sure to change breastfeeding positions as well. Put your baby’s chin to the affected side of your breast (the chin should be pointing to the sore area of your breast), as it has the greatest force. This position promotes better drainage.
- Check the latch. Poor latch means your breast can’t be emptied effectively and your milk ducts could get clogged from oversupply.
- Apply warm compress to the affected area of your breast. Jump into the hot shower and let the water beat against the clogged duct. This hurts like crazy but, on the other hand, it’s super effective! Another hack I found is using these Breastfeeding Relief Packs. They are super comfy, fit into your bra and your clothes doesn’t get wet. It makes wonders with recently clogged ducts. They’re soothing, relieving and, what is more, they help preventing plugged ducts.
- Massage your breast! This is extremely important, because it helps releasing the clog. Better if done in the hot shower. Try pumping or breastfeeding right after the massage.
- Try expressing breastmilk to ease clogged ducts symptoms. Hand expression or pumping, it doesn’t matter. They both work great. When your baby doesn’t feel like eating much it’s always great to have your pump at hand. Give yourself a couple of extra let downs on the affected breast to make sure the milk won’t build up and make the plugged duct even worse.
- Try an old wives remedy. A cabbage leaf was a godsend for me. Cool it down in the fridge, squeeze it your hands so that it releases some juice and put it into your bra. Apply a new cabbage leaf every two or three hours and you’ll feel much better by the end of the day. I promise! Last time I got a clogged duct, I treated it in one day with just this cabbage leaf.
- Cut down on hot fluids. No one will tell you this, but it’s extremely important. When you have a plugged duct (especially when your baby doesn’t nurse that much) you would want to get less let downs than usual, meaning you should cut on fluids and some calories. But don’t starve yourself out.
- Use a special nursing position. Lay your baby on the bed and take the bridge position (drop to your elbows and knees above the baby) and nurse like this while your breast is hanging down towards the baby’s mouth. The gravity will do the rest. Using this trick alone may help tremendously if you milk duct has jut recently plugged and the milk wasn’t able to build up yet.
5 Great Breastfeeding Supplements to Treat a Clogged Milk Duct
- Massage your breast with Organic Coconut Oil. It has a great anti-inflammatory effect and seem to help ease up the pain a bit. Plus, it’s much easier to massage your breast more effectively using the oil
- Apply Organic Aloe Vera)compress to the breast. Warm it up, soak a wash cloth in it and apply the cloth to the affected area of your breast.
- Take Soy Lecithin from a non-GMO source. What it does, it makes your breast milk less fatty, thus it gets highly unlikely for milk to build up and cause the clogged duct.
- Take Phytolacca 30C as directed on the bottle. According to Joette Calabrese (a homeopath with a worldwide practice working with families and individuals via Zoom), you can treat clogged milk ducts (and even mastitis!) with this homeopathic remedy. Phytolacca is known to fight inflammation and infections.
- Try taking this Women’s Probiotics. They contain certain strains of probiotics that reduce bacterial count in mom’s breastmilk even more effectively than antibiotics do. Specifically, L. fermentum and L. salivarius. According to the research, they are considered as an effective alternative to antibiotics for the treatment of infectious mastitis during lactation. They may help prevent a clogged duct as well.
Final Thoughts On Treating Plugged Milk Ducts
I now look back and realise what I did was wrong. Most of it. When I got a plugged milk duct the first time around I didn’t even realise what it was. I thought I caught a cold. When I woke up one morning I felt a little sluggish and when I was breastfeeding that day the let down felt a little more intense than usual. I didn’t make a federal case out of it, just continued with my usual morning routine. By the end of the day I ran high fever. My breast was hot and painful. That was when it hit me (finally).
First thing I did next morning was making an appointment with a mammalogist. Okay, he ran all the necessary tests, made an ultrasound to make sure it was just a plugged duct (not the mastitis) and prescribed three things:
- Warm compress (with an anti-inflammatory medication)
- Frequent nursing
- Rest (no housework, no cooking, no nothing! Just R-E-S-T! And tell me, mammas, who can actually do that with the baby?)
I followed her instructions (well, except for the last part with relaxing all day through) and cleared my plugged duct in 3 days. (The fever went back to normal the same day I started the treatment)
In less than a month, I got another breast affected by the plugged duct. God, was I furious!
That time around, the recommendations from my doctor didn’t work so I ended up having another appointment, another ultrasound and antibiotics as a “trophy”! I was really afraid to drink antibiotics while breastfeeding but after digging in more on the topic, I figured nothing bad could happen. So I started my antibiotic treatment and I completely recovered in a week (although I had to treat my guts afterwards – but it’s the whole other story!)
In the following couple of months I experienced recurrent plugged ducts that I treated without any medications quick and easy.
So what changed?
- I knew the symptoms so I started the treatment with natural remedies right away
- Stress was the first thing I eliminated as much as I possibly could
- I learned to massage my breast really hard (after the hot shower) and tried hand expression over pumping. It turned out way better for breaking a clogged duct
- The cabbage leaf! It works like a charm!
- I eliminated hot fluids
- I supplemented myself with soy lecithin and probiotics.
The best reward for that was NOT having any more cases of plugged milk ducts up to the end of my breastfeeding. Even when I was weaning (which was kind of rapid).
And that’s a WRAP!
What about you?
Tell me if you’ve experienced a plugged milk duct. Did you treat it with medications or natural remedies? Share you hacks in comments below!