When I was pregnant I thought I knew everything about how to breastfeed. However, the reality proved otherwise as soon as I started my breastfeeding journey.
As a first-time mom, you get too overwhelmed with everything that’s going on after birth: the newborn baby, your body that seems so unfamiliar, postpartum aches and pains, and the breastfeeding.
Regardless of the fact that breastfeeding is the most natural thing a mother can do after birth, it may also be a quite challenging one.
When it comes to the first couple of months of nursing, it is not unusual for a new mom to suffer from a clogged milk duct. This article is aimed to help mothers find out the best ways of dealing with plugged milk ducts and prevent its recurrence.
How Do I Know If I Have A Clogged Milk Duct?
When I had my first clogged milk duct it caught me completely off guard. I passed far from the stage of establishing lactation (a.k.a. the first couple of months of breastfeeding) and wasn’t quite around the weaning phase yet. My breastfeeding schedule was also stable, so when I experienced a clogged duct my very first time it took me almost a day to realize what it was.
I thought I just caught a cold because the only symptom I had in the morning was extreme fatigue. Although, I did have a strong tingling sensation during the letdown while I breastfed my baby, it didn’t give me any idea about what was going on so far.
It was not until the evening that I actually realized the problem was in my breast. I found that I had a bumpy area on one of my breasts that looked like a big lump – warm and extremely painful to the touch.
What Causes Clogged Milk Ducts?
Most commonly, women suffer from a clogged milk duct when they start off with breastfeeding. In other words, the episodes with blocked milk ducts may disturb a new mom for up to three months after birth.
Another big reason is poor breast drainage. The baby doesn’t suck out breast milk effectively and the milk that is left may build up and form a clog. This may happen due to a poor baby’s latch or an oversupply. Both issues may be easily corrected by a lactation consultant.
Women who opt not to breastfeed after giving birth may also suffer from clogged milk ducts, as well as mothers who want to stop nursing.
There are also some other culprits that contribute to the vulnerability of milk ducts, including:
- Nipple pain, namely, cracked or bleeding nipples that may interfere with frequent breastfeeding and make it impossible to drain the breast properly.
- An abrupt change in a breastfeeding schedule or a missed feeding.
- Breastfeeding in one and the same position.
- Breastfeeding without changing the breasts during one nursing session.
- Pressure on the breast, including tight-fitting clothes, bra with underwires or sports bra. Even sleeping on your stomach at night may lead to a clog.
- Drainage issues. Whether it’s a poor latch or weak pump, everything that could lead to stagnant breast milk and its ineffective evacuation can eventually result in a blocked milk duct.
- Stress and anxiety are the major culprits, too. They can cause the duct’s spasm so that the breast milk will be blocked from passing through. Stress also affects the production of oxytocin (the milk releasing hormone) that prevents breast milk from flowing out smoothly.
Clogged Milk Duct Symptoms
A nursing mom can experience a clogged milk duct out of a sudden. However, the initial cause is usually hidden in poor breast milk drainage. It’s just that a mom doesn’t always know about this.
She can recognize a clog by a tender red lump formed on her breast. It feels firm, hot and painful to the touch. The affected area especially hurts during the letdown of breast milk while breastfeeding.
Other plugged milk duct symptoms include:
- itchiness and swelling of the area around the clog
- reduced milk production due to a slower milk flow
- cold-like symptoms
7 Most Effective Tips to Clear a Clogged Milk Duct
Here are some options that can help moms relieve the symptoms and get rid of the clog:
- Nurse frequently. When the breast hurts the first thing a mom would think of is to stop breastfeeding but this is fundamentally wrong. What you should do instead is nurse-nurse-nurse in order to stimulate an adequate milk evacuation from the breast.
- Hot shower + massage. What you can do before each nursing session is the combination of hot shower and massage of the affected breast area. The heat will help the ducts to expand while the massaging movements starting from the clogged area and going down to the nipple will work on releasing the breast milk that is built up and became stagnant. You can even try to hand express some breast milk in the shower before a breastfeeding session.
- Rest as much as you can. Forget about household chores for a while. Ask your family members to help you with cleaning and cooking while you take advantage of bed rest. Take your baby with you and try co-sleeping.
- Apply heat on the area with a clog. It’s almost impossible to take a hot shower before every feeding so a hot compress comes to rescue. Ten minutes prior to breastfeeding will do the trick.
- Experiment with nursing positions. Change nursing positions often. You’ve got to be creative to let the milk flowing freely. Remember, breast milk is evacuated more effectively from the area where the baby’s chin is pointed to. Another thing you may try is to take a bridge position over your baby and rely on gravity. It especially helps women with bigger breasts and when the clogged area is below the nipple.
- Don’t forget to stay hydrated and eat healthy foods.
- Free the breasts from a bra and tight clothes.
Lecithin for Clogged Milk Ducts
Another thing worth trying in terms of preventing or treating blocked ducts is taking lecithin supplements. According to Dr. Jack Newman, lecithin may reduce the stickiness of breast milk by enriching it with polyunsaturated fatty acids so it makes easier for the milk to flow freely through the ducts.
It is advised to take around 4000 mg of lecithin per day.
Probiotics for Clogged Milk Ducts
According to this research, there are certain strains of probiotic cultures that reduce the bacterial count in woman’s breast milk. Namely, L. fermentumand L. salivarius are known for effective treatment of mastitis in lactating mothers. Some over-the-counter supplements contain these probiotic strains so it may be wise purchasing them.
I advise you to try out this probiotic supplement from Garden of Life. It is doctor’s formulated especially for women’s vaginal, digestive and immune health and it already contains these two strains of bacteria that will help you resolve a clogged milk duct situation. On top of that, one capsule contains a great daily dosage (50 billion CFU), so you don’t need to take it twice or three times a day, like with other probiotics.
Do I need Antibiotics to Treat a Plugged Milk Duct
Usually, you don’t need any antibiotics to treat a clogged milk duct. However, keep in mind that the problem doesn’t go away by itself. A plugged duct needs to be treated as soon as it is noticed because if left untreated it may eventually lead to a more severe inflammation called mastitis where you won’t get away without using antibiotics.
How Long Does a Clogged Milk Duct Last?
If it is diagnosed in time and the treatment started right away, a clogged milk duct may last no longer than two days.
If the symptoms don’t get better within a couple of days or a mother develops a high fever (100.4 Fahrenheit and above), it is highly advised to seek medical attention since a clogged milk duct may lead to mastitis.