Clogged Milk Duct

image001Many women breastfeeding for the first time complain of pain. It is normal to experience some discomfort in the first few days as your breasts are still very tender. Each breast has several lobes that contain small sacs connected by thin tubes. Those tubes are ducts that carry the liquid to larger ducts ending at the nipple area. These straw like structures can become clogged and cause inflammation and infection at the site.

What Causes My Clogged Milk Duct?

1. Milk Stasis

When you are breastfeeding, it’s difficult to know if the baby did drink all of the milk. It isn’t as if you can measure the amount taken in and see if there is any left. Milk remaining in the tubes becomes thick and may cause irritation. The area then becomes red and tender. This is simply an excess supply, but not an actual blockage. This is most frequent in the early weeks of feeding, when you and baby are first learning. Suckling may be more difficult at this point, but not impossible.

Normally only one breast is affected. A white spot may appear on the nipple area. Other symptoms include swelling and redness of the breast, a lump that is tender to touch and warmer than the rest of the tissue. You may develop a fever and be unusually tired. This condition is easily treated if addressed early on, but if ignored, it can become much worse.

2. Bacteria

In some cases bacteria is the culprit. If your nipples are cracked or raw, germs can get in the ducts and cause the same symptoms, but with a worse outcome if not cared for in short time and requiring a different treatment. Microorganisms can enter through any opening on your nipple. This does not mean you are not keeping yourself clean. The most frequent type of bacteria is staph, which is on all skin. Do not be embarrassed because it just happens. It is important to notify your doctor as soon as possible.

What Can I Do About My Clogged Milk Duct?

The first few months with your newborn are a learning experience. You are not supposed to know how to do everything. Here are several methods you can take to deal with your clogged milk duct.

1. Drain the Breasts

The average mom would not think to pump after each feeding. Common sense would tell you the baby drank it all. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Many times an infant takes far less milk than is available, causing a backup. Draining the breast will avoid complications for the next feeding. Just pump until the flow becomes a drip. This will ensure the breast is empty.

2. Wear Comfortable Bras

Women taught by grandmothers and even those in other cultures are told to bind their breasts. Actually, it is not true. Make sure you wear a bra but a comfortable one with adequate support and keep your shirts loose fitting. Investing in a really good support will prevent you from waking up one morning with your breasts dangling below your bellybutton. The purpose is to prevent impeding the flow, but ill-fitting garments will do that.

3. Switch Feeding Positions

Mothers and babies tend to have a favorite breast. One position is just more natural for mom depending on if you are right or left handed. Your baby will feel your comfort and as long as nutrition is provided, be glad to oblige. It is imperative that you alternate breasts and feeding positions, though. There are four recommended poses, the cradle, football, cross-over and reclining. This ensures all the ducts are stimulated.

4. Keep Breastfeeding

Even if a breast is tender, keep feeding your baby and do not avoid using the affected breast. It won’t harm your infant and will help restore natural flow. If you stop using the tender breast, it will become worse quickly.

How to Ease the Pain of My Clogged Milk Duct

1. Home Remedies

Once the inflammation has set in, there are a few methods to try at home.

  • Apply warm compresses prior to feeding time to ease the suckling and help clear the clog.
  • Taking a warm shower can also help. Target the reddened area with the water. It will feel better when it is over, but may be a little sore during the process.
  • Massaging the spot in the direction of your nipple assists in moving the congestion, especially if you can do that during the feeding.
  • Breastfeed as often as possible. If this is too painful, try the pump. Attempt to ease the pain and correct the flow.

2. Medical Treatment

  • Call your doctor. If the discomfort is severe or continues more than a few days, call your doctor.
  • Ibuprofen. Check with your ob/gyn to be certain that ibuprofen is permitted. It can help alleviate the pain and reduce any inflammation, but some doctors are hesitant to allow any drugs while nursing. Some manufacturers still suggest not taking this medication unless you stop breastfeeding. If your doctor suggests you avoid pain relievers, suspending feedings for a day and using the reserve you have will help. The most recent studies have shown that only a very low level of the drug finds its way to the breast milk. Ibuprofen does have a short half-life, which means it is out of your system quickly. You will need to continue pumping to prevent back up, but this time discard the milk rather than saving it.
  • Treatment for mastitis. If you have tried all the home remedies and have little or no relief, it is time to consider a more serious scenario. You may have mastitis. Mastitis occurs when a blocked duct is not relieved effectively. Pus forms in the duct and typically becomes an abscess. Medication and surgical intervention to drain the site is essential. Only your doctor can diagnose this. The sooner you get professional attention, the better the odds of preventing this are. Once you have mastitis, you are more apt to get it again.

The video included offers more information about clogged milk ducts. Please take a moment to watch it: