Dealing with clogged ducts while breastfeeding

Guest post by Jill

My little man loves to eat and I love feeding him. My boobs have taken on an identity all their own. They still belong to me, but sometimes I feel that they are an entirely separate entity – a milk machine. And, I like it!

After birth, my son latched on right away. The lactation consultant came in and helped to make sure he was latched on correctly, so that it wouldn’t be painful for me to nurse him. She was awesome – I called and talked to her a couple different times after we went home. When I went in to rent a breast pump from the hospital a couple months later, she remembered me and my family, comments I made to her that I didn’t even remember making – It meant a lot to me and this woman is forever a part of our son’s early life story.

We started off on the right foot, but it wasn’t easy. My milk didn’t come in right away, so we had one day where my kid screamed every time I put him to the breast – he would latch and then pull away. We got worried and went to the hospital because he wasn’t eating. After the doctor talked to us, she brought in a bottle of formula to give to him. He took it all down, the crying stopped and he looked at us contented, but with this face that said “It’s about damn time!” Poor baby was hungry and frustrated when there was nothing coming out of the boob for him.

The next day, I got my milk, but for a few days that first week, we supplemented with a one bottle of formula a day. I hadn’t wanted to supplement, but it got Asher used to the bottle. After that, we got into the habit of Papa feeding bottled breast-milk. And, when Asher was 8 weeks old, I went back to work and he went to daycare, he was already used to breast-milk by the bottle.

One morning I woke up with a huge, hard lump on my right breast. I didn’t know where it came from and totally freaked out – Did I have a tumor!? I wrote my mama friends, did some reading and figured out it was had to be a clogged duct. Ultimately, it lead to a breast infection (mastitis) and required a trip to the midwife and an antibiotic.

A week later, I woke up again with that lump. At least I knew what it was this time, but my goal was to work out the clog myself and avoid another round of antibiotics. I put a hot compress on the breast then nursed and pumped and nursed and pumped! I also nursed Ash with his chin pointed toward the lump – the suction is directed towards the clogged duct and can help work it out. I massaged the lump as hard as I could stand while he nursed. Luckily, he didn’t notice that my boob was moving – as long as the nipple remained in his mouth! It hurt, but the babe is really a great remedy.

I got the third one a week after that while we were visiting my mother-in-law and I had failed to bring my breast pump. A couple causes of clogged ducts that applied to me this time: 1) Infrequent or skipped feedings – we were traveling and Ash didn’t eat as regularly from me since we were in the car. And, 2) Inadequate milk removal – he slept 7hrs and I usually get up to pump if he sleeps that long, but I didn’t since I didn’t have it with me (I’ll never make that mistake again). We came home because I was pretty miserable. I used a bar of Dove soap (perfectly shaped to curve around the breast) to massage the lump during a hot shower – and I worked out the clog. It was pretty clear that it had been taken care of – I massaged down and shot milk out in a strong, steady stream all over the shower! I had to call my husband to check it out – It was so cool!

After the first three, a friend of my mother’s told me that underwire bras put pressure on the ducts – another cause. Other causes include stress, fatigue, anemia, and/or a weakened immune system. I had been wearing an underwire nursing bra every day. So, I stopped wearing them, bought some new bras and went a few weeks without another plug! Then, it was date night with my hubby. I was getting ready and put on my pre-baby underwire bra for two reasons: 1) To feel sexy – the boobs stood a little perkier and I felt a little swagger in my step; and more honestly, 2) It was the only thing clean – all my nursing tanks and the no-underwire nursing bras were dirty! The next day I started to feel the lump coming. I used another technique suggested to me and put a piece of fresh cabbage in my bra. I’m not sure why, how or if this works, some women swear by it, but I woke up with another lump and took care of it in the same ways I mentioned above.

I talked to the lactation consultant and she said that some mamas have extra creamy milk or extra windy ducts. For me, the lump always shows up in the same place on the same boob. Lecithin, a natural emulsifier and lubricant (it has effects on lowering cholesterol and triglycerides) can also be used to help keep the milk from clogging up as well. I haven’t tried that, but it might be the next option if I avoid all the common causes and I keep getting these clogs.

Comments on Dealing with clogged ducts while breastfeeding

  1. I got several clogs while I was nursing, and it sure is frustrating! Among my friends, I’ve noticed that some women are more prone to them. Weird.

  2. The very best thing for me when I had a clogged duct (I nursed kids for over 6 years and I only have 2…) was to nurse the baby on my hands and knees. I used gravity to help move the milk. While I had a plugged duct, I always started on the plugged side, even though my instinct was to protect it. In this position, my baby was soon gulping away and the plug was worked out.

  3. I’ve had a few plugged ducts, mostly after stressful weeks at work. I’ve always found that massaging my breasts while soaking them in warm water, whether in the bath or submerged in a sink-full of water, works best for me.

  4. Lecithin ( or, I call it Leche-thin) DOES WORK!
    Also, with the cabbage, just use a piece big enough to cover the lump, not a whole leaf. Cabbage absorbs moisture, which is why you often see it inside boxes of take out food, so the food doesnt become soggy. If you put a whole leaf of cabbage on your boob for too long, it will actually dry out you milk, so just a small piece applied to the blockage, for no more than 15 min at a time, a few times a day. I also foun, filling a disposable diaper with HOT HOT HOT water and wrapping the diaper around your breast makes a fantastic compress. And it never hurts to drink lots and lots of water.

  5. I swear by the cabbage leaves! I woke up in a tent in Switzerland one morning a few weeks ago in so much pain, it actually hurt when I put clothes on. We got a cabbage and I left it in overnight and the lump was gone the next day – but it was intensely painful. I did also ‘forcefeed’ my daughter milk all day long though! Thanks for the info re the underwire. I didn’t know that!

  6. Lecithin works VERY well! I took New Chapter Perfect Prenatal vitamins which contained lecithin, and noticed if I skipped a day I got a lump! Or if I missed a feeding and started to get a lump, I would take an extra vitamin and it would go away.

  7. i am the mastitis queen. yes, it’s a dubious title, but i hold it proudly.

    i have had FOUR bouts since the birth of my son seven months ago thanks to a proclivity for plugged ducts since i’m tandem nursing my toddler along side the infant.

    my boobies are not magical, and can only take so much more abuse. i’m thisclose to weaning the older one.

  8. For anyone with a clogged milk duct: look very verrrrry closely at your nipple under a bright light. Do you see the very tiniestbit of white or yellow spot on your nipple? Using a sterilized needle, poke the little white dot. If you can getthe white away, squeeze your boob and the milk will come shooting out. I would constantly get clogged ducts and it was always a long involved process of heat and feeding and massaging until I learned this trick. From then on — poke out the bit of blocked milk, and self express or pump out the blocked milk. I am not joking, it worked every time. But the first blockage I got was so bad that I still have a small lump in my boob, nearly 2 years later. So get those blockages out asap! Hope it helps someone. The things nobody tells you……..

    • This! Of course it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor first (!). I had a clogged duct and after some googling I realized that I had the white dot on my nipple- apparently it’s called a ‘milk blister.’ I sterilized a needle, popped it and it came out immediately when I pumped/massaged. Before this I had been trying to get it out for 2 days. My whole boob was covered in painful liumps. So grateful I figured out that it was a blister

    • Thank you so much for this tip! I read it, went right into the bathroom, and saw that–yep–there was a little clogged pore right there on my nipple. I used a pair of tweezers to pluck the plug right out, and milk shot out in a steady stream. The baby wasn’t hungry, so I just got in the shower and applied a tiny bit of pressure, and the whole duct emptied. It was awesome and such a relief! I will always use this trick now. Thank you again!

  9. REMOVING BLOCKAGES – I get blocked ducts and get the white dot on my nipple. Massage and hot showers etc etc don’t seem to work. 5.30 this morning, took a needle to expose the white and some fine tweezers and plucked out the blockage. A 5mm core of plugged milk came out to my great satisfaction – certainly recommend as long as you are super careful not to damage the skin.

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