Calling All Nursing Moms: Here’s How to Clear a Clogged Milk Duct

baby nursing from clogged milk duct

Breastfeeding—the easiest and most beautiful way to feed your baby. HA! We’re obviously joking. Nursing is ridiculously hard and just when you figure out how to get the right latch and that it’s possible to breastfeed in public without flashing every human in sight, you’re faced with another mega challenge: a clogged milk duct. These hard lumps are practically a breastfeeding rite of passage, but they don’t have to be a recurring event. Here, your guide to these pesky blockages, including how to get relief fast.

Wait, Why Do Clogged Milk Ducts Happen?

Clogged milk ducts are hard lumps that form in the milk duct of the breast and prevent or obstruct the flow of milk. They’re often tender or painful (although not necessarily). It can be hard to pinpoint the exact cause of a blocked duct, but poor drainage is the most common culprit. Insufficient drainage of the breast can be triggered by a variety of factors including…

  • Incorrect latch
  • Blebs (small white or yellow spots on the nipple caused by a blocked pore)
  • Weaning
  • Breast engorgement from oversupply, missed feeds or waiting too long in between feeds
  • Excessive pressure on the breast from a too-tight shirt or bra
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue

When treated immediately, a clogged milk duct will typically decrease in size or go away after a couple of days. But left untreated, it can lead to serious complications such as mastitis or a breast abscess.

What Are the Symptoms of a Clogged Milk Duct?

Most nursing moms can identify a blocked duct pretty easily just by touch (it feels like a tiny knot in your breast). But here are the main signs to look out for:

  • A small lump the size of a pea or larger
  • Sensitivity or tenderness of the breast
  • A baby who’s fussy when feeding from the affected breast since the flow of milk is slower

How to Clear a Clogged Milk Duct

So, you felt that unmistakable lump and know you’re dealing with a blocked duct. First of all, don’t panic. Clogged milk ducts are very common and usually resolve themselves quickly and on their own (with a little help from your baby, that is). Here’s what to do:

1. If it’s not too painful, let your baby feed from the side with the blocked milk duct first. Since a baby’s suck is usually stronger at the start of the feed, this can help to clear the blockage.

2. Apply a warm compress to the affected breast before and during a feed. This will help with the let-down reflex and encourage the flow of milk.

3. Before and during feeding, gently massage the area. Also, try to massage the breast while standing underneath a warm shower.

4. While feeding, position your baby’s nose or chin toward the duct. This might help him massage and dislodge it.

5. After nursing, use a breast pump or hand express to remove more milk and empty the breast as much as you can.

6. Use the Haakaa breast pump to pull out the clog. Here’s how: Fill the Haakaa with warm water and a tablespoon of Epsom salts. Attach the silicone pump to the affected breast and watch as it works to unblock the duct. (Warning: Don’t be alarmed if you see stringy milk come out of the affected breast—this is just the static milk coming out and is perfectly safe for your baby to consume.)

Call your doctor if the lump doesn’t go away after 48 hours or if you develop symptoms of mastitis such as fever, redness of the breast or a burning sensation.

How to Prevent Clogged Milk Ducts

The best offense is good defense, after all. Keep these tips in mind to keep blockages at bay for good. 

  • Breastfeed often (experts suggest nursing at least every three hours)
  • Ask your doctor about lecithin supplements. This emulsifier is safe for nursing moms and may help prevent plugged ducts.
  • Avoid tight clothing
  • Make an appointment with a lactation consultant who can evaluate your latch and technique
  • Switch breasts while nursing to ensure that they both are drained fully regularly
  • Drink more water
  • Get enough rest
  • Wean your baby gradually, if possible
  • Switch up breastfeeding positions so that all the milk ducts are stimulated

50 Frequently Asked Questions About Breastfeeding

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...