Clogged Ducts?

Breastfeeding is wonderful – when it doesn’t hurt. But unfortunately, sometimes it does. Just this week, I received not one but two messages from new moms experiencing clogged ducts:

I found a lump in my breast last week and that scared the crap out of me. I think it’s a clogged duct. I nursed through it (it was so painful). I was so afraid it was going to turn into mastitis.

I’ve had crazy pain. Thought I had thrush, did treatment for that (still am in certain ways, with supplements and diet), saw improvement, but when I told my midwife I was (still) having pain, she pointed out I have a clogged duct. And I think I actually have several. Ugh.

Signs & Symptoms

A clogged or plugged duct may cause a lump in the breast, a hard spot that may feel warm and/or tender to the touch. You may also notice an area on the breast that looks a bit pink or red. The veins in that breast may also look more bluish and pronounced. It often happens in just one breast at a time. The breast may not feel emptied as usual.

A plugged duct may be caused by, among other things, oversupply, the baby’s position at the breast or the latch, waiting too long between feedings, wearing a bra that’s too tight or otherwise putting pressure on the area (with a sling or lying on your tummy)…. and sometimes we simply don’t know for sure what caused it. In any case, a clogged duct can be painful and it can lead to mastitis – a breast infection with all the bonus symptoms of the flu – so it’s something we want to address right away.

Plan of Attack 

If you too find yourself in this situation, my suggestions would be to hit it soon and hit it hard. Here’s a suggested plan of attack:

  • Continue lots of nursing on demand. Your clogged duct will not hurt your baby and it is perfectly safe to continue breastfeeding. Trying to stop or wean now will only make it worse. Lots of nursing will help to clear the blockage and allow milk to flow freely again.
  • Massage that breast during each feeding, over the lump or painful area and toward the nipple. It may feel very tender but persevere – this is super helpful in clearing the duct. Continue this the whole time baby feeds at the breast.
  • Apply heat (warm compresses) to the breast before feedings (and if it helps, a cold compress to the area after a feeding). Some women find they get relief and comfort from hanging over a bowl of warm water and soaking the affected breast in it.
  • Stay well hydrated. This is so important! It’s essential throughout your entire breastfeeding relationship, but especially if you start to feel run down or start experiencing the symptoms of a clogged duct or mastitis.
  • Up the vitamin C for yourself. I reach for the emergen-C for an extra boost if I feel I need it. (It’s a good idea to stay on a healthful diet and appropriate supplement throughout the breastfeeding relationship as well!)
  • Rest, rest, rest! Did I mention rest? Take time to rest your body now and focus on baby or you may soon face mastitis instead and that will force you to rest. Mastitis is no fun.
  • Try different nursing positions – cradle, cross-cradle, football, side-lying, leaning over baby…. Also, try nursing with baby’s chin toward the clogged duct – this might require some minor acrobatics! – but it can really help get the job done.

The goal is to have your whole breast feeling soft and supple and emptied. Some women feel the clog unplug whereas others simply notice their symptoms disappearing. The breast may feel slightly sore or bruised for a few days still.

When I developed mastitis for the first time with my fourth child, I was able to avoid antibiotics by doing all of the above plus I used echinacea-goldenseal capsules as well as homeopathic remedies (arnica and phytolacca may be helpful). Check a good homeopathic resource for the specific symptoms you are experiencing. I like The Family Guide to Homeopathy.

It is said that once you have had a clogged duct or mastitis, you are more likely to have it again, so prevention and nipping it in the bud if ever you start to feel it coming on again is important. It’s also important to make sure it goes away entirely and that the symptoms are not merely temporarily suppressed, so keep up with the things above until you feel it has been well and truly resolved for at least a few days and preferably a week.

Here are some useful resources for clogged ducts:

What has helped YOU recover from clogged ducts?

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