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Ways to Relieve a Blocked Milk Duct and Avoid Getting Mastitis
If you’re a breastfeeding mom, you’ve likely needed to figure out how to get rid of a clogged milk duct at some point.
I often ignore the milk duct pain when it first starts and wait until it gets really bad to do anything about it. DON’T BE LIKE ME!
Thankfully, I’ve learned some tips and tricks along the way, and have never had to deal with mastitis. But you definitely want to get on top of it before it gets really bad.
Anyway, when I woke up this morning with yet another blocked duct — and yes, you can still get them when nursing a toddler! – I knew I had to get on it right away. And I wanted to share a few tips with you.
This method doesn’t involve a breast pump. While pumping is certainly an effective way to relieve a clogged milk duct, mine is packed away somewhere and I’m not interested in digging it up.
So this is for those of you who don’t have a pump available for one reason or another. (But feel free to use yours if you have one handy!)
I am not a medical professional, and this information is not intended to replace medical advice.
What Causes Milk Duct Clogs?
First, let’s talk about what causes blocked ducts.
Plugged or blocked milk ducts are caused by plugging, blockage, or poor drainage of a milk duct or section of the breast. It often follows incomplete drainage, skipped feedings, or stress (source).
For example, if your baby cluster feeds and then goes a longer period of time without nursing, you might get a clogged duct.
You could also get one if you forget which side you fed from last, and then go too long in between feeding on one side.
But whatever the cause, you want to get rid of that clogged milk duct — and you want it gone FAST.
Clogged Duct Vs. Mastitis
Not sure if you have a clogged milk duct or mastitis? While they can have some of the same symptoms, you should call your healthcare provider for an evaluation if:
- you don’t feel better in 8-24 hours
- there are red streaks from your areola to your armpit
- you run a fever of (38.4° C [101° F]) or higher
- your nipple is cracked and looks infected
- your breast gets red, hot, and swollen
- you have the chills and continue feeling worse
- you notice blood or pus in your milk
Things You’ll Need to Relieve a Clogged Milk Duct
You really don’t need much to relieve a blocked milk duct, and you probably already have most of these things on hand.
– a hungry child (essential if you don’t want to pump!)
– at least two small rice bags (or damp washcloths)
– a water bottle
Optionally, you might also find these items helpful:
– an electric toothbrush or lactation massager
How to Get Rid of a Clogged Milk Duct
Here are the steps I’m following as we speak to get rid of the blocked milk duct.
It’s very important to start this process as soon as you realize you have a blocked duct.
So start by gathering everything you need. You’ll want to start out by throwing one of the rice bags into the freezer; then microwave the other for about 30 seconds.
If you don’t have any rice bags handy, you can always use a warm, damp washcloth instead. Put a second damp washcloth in the fridge or freezer.
Fill up a water bottle and start drinking. You’ll want to stay hydrated while you work on relieving that blocked milk duct.
Placing a warm compress on the painful breast for 20 minutes at a time will help to soften the blockage and encourage your milk to flow.
Taking a warm shower can be incredibly helpful, too — but you can only shower so many times a day. :o)
So if you decide to use a rice bag, like this one, you can just pop it right into your bra and go about your business.
However, if you don’t have one available, you can always make your own with an old sock and some rice or beans.
Unfortunately, I only have ONE of these rice bags (belonging to my eldest daughter, who uses it when she gets hurt!). Which is making it a little tricky for me to alternate heat and cold.
That’s why I recommend having at least two on hand — and I’ll be ordering a couple of my own for the future!
Although moist heat is great for unclogging a duct, it’s not all that practical to put a damp washcloth inside your bra….
You’re certainly welcome to try moist heat, though. You’ll just want to remove your bra while applying the compress.
Whenever I get a clogged duct, it’s as if my body is telling me that I’m trying to do too much. So try to sit down and rest for a little while if you can.
Although, I know how well that works when you have kids!
Applying gentle pressure to the clog can help to loosen it.
Massage your breast before, while, and after feeding your child. You can try a few different techniques to figure out what works for you.
If you need a little guidance, watch the video below. She also explains a really neat trick for using an electric toothbrush (or a lactation massager like this one) to help loosen the clog.
Now it’s time to breastfeed your baby or toddler.
The absolute best, and most effective, method I’ve found to clear a blocked duct is dangle feeding. Give it a try — basically, you place your child face up on the bed and get on your hands and knees.
When your kiddo is nursing this way, gravity will help to loosen the clog and pull it out.
When you follow the dangle feeding method, gravity will help to loosen the clog and pull it out.Click To Tweet
It might not be the most relaxing thing in the world, but it’s super effective, so try it out if you need to get rid of a clogged milk duct FAST.
And make sure to feed your child as much as possible, or hand express if needed.
Finally, give the affected breast a little more love than the other for a little while.
So if your child nurses from both sides during a session, then start every feed on the affected breast until the clog has resolved.
And if your child nurses from just one side each time, then try feeding on the affected breast twice, then the other side once.
Repeat as needed.
But absolutely DO NOT neglect the other side completely, or you’ll risk getting another blocked duct. And we definitely don’t want that.
Pro Mom Tip: Got a firehose letdown? To avoid drowning your newborn in milk, try laid back breastfeeding until your letdown eases up, then switch to dangle feeding.
This is where the second rice bag comes in. A cold pack is soooo soothing when you have a blocked duct.
(Trust me on this one!)
Hopefully it’s been chilling in the freezer for a while. Grab it now — and make sure to throw the other one into the freezer for later!
Stick it in your bra and leave it there until it’s no longer cold. (Doesn’t it feel amazing?!) And then this rice pack will become your next heat compress.
Repeat as Needed
It can take a little while to get rid of a clogged milk duct. But if you start following these steps as soon as you feel the milk duct pain, you’ll find that it’s resolved much faster.
So repeat these five steps as needed, and remember that you might still have some tenderness even after the clog is gone.
Pumping can help to loosen the clog, no doubt. But as you can see, it’s certainly not necessary if you don’t have one readily available!
Ideally, you should rest as much as possible and keep a bottle of water handy. (As I type up this post, I’m snuggled up on the couch with my girls, my laptop, and a fuzzy blanket!)
Will a Clogged Duct Resolve on Its Own?
In some cases, a clogged duct will resolve with normal breastfeeding or pumping, but it often takes extra measures to help clear it out. With the extra measures, they typically resolve within 24-48 hours.
If you are unable to unclog a blocked milk duct, however, you could end up with mastitis.
So if you’ve tried everything and it still won’t unclog, I would advise getting a professional medical opinion sooner rather than later.
How Do You Prevent Clogged Milk Ducts?
Sometimes, clogged milk ducts just happen, and it’s hard to pinpoint the reason.
But they’re awful, so here are a few tips and tricks that can help:
- Keep your breasts properly drained.
- Avoid putting pressure on your breasts.
- Avoid tight clothing (especially bras).
- Drink plenty of water.
- Keep stress under control.
- Change up nursing positions.
Way to go, mama! Breastfeeding can be challenging at times, but you’re doing AWESOME!
(Oh, and in case you were curious: At the time of publishing this post, less than ten hours after waking up, the clogged duct is GONE and it’s just a little sore now. That’s gotta be record timing for me!)