Becoming a nursing mother means that your breasts turn into something like an alien life form. They change shape before, after, and during feeding, go from smooth to lumpy in the blink of an eye, and occasionally leak a little bit. However, that is all pretty normal and, after the first few times, not particularly shocking. Yet, new mothers tend to get a bit panicked when they notice the sudden appearance of a small, tender, warm, or red bump on their breast. There is no need to fret, it is most commonly a clogged milk duct. While typically nothing to worry about, action needs to be taken before something worse happens.
What Causes Clogged Milk Ducts?
A clogged milk duct is exactly what it sounds like - the duct that your breast milk flows through is clogged. However, as to what causes clogged milk ducts can be a little more complex. Some common reasons include:
Your baby is having latch problems or otherwise isn't feeding enough
Your pump is not working properly or is not strong enough
The duct has become compressed from too tight of a bra or stomach sleeping
Stress has prevented your from producing oxytocin, the hormone that allows you to release breast milk
You have a cold that has kept you from breastfeeding your baby as often
Obviously there are a lot of reasons one of your milk ducts can become clogged, making it a pretty common problem for nursing mothers. However, unless it is causing you a reasonable amount of pain or has been an ongoing problem, there is no need to rush to the doctor each time. There are a number of things you can do to unclog them yourself.
How To Unclog a Milk Duct
Don't wait for a clogged milk duct to treat itself. Sometimes it will fix itself, but by allowing it to stay clogged, a plugged milk duct can get infected and lead to much worse problems.
Nursing is one of the best ways to unclog the milk duct so try that first. If you are still trying to get that milk flowing again, try these steps:
Massage - If you have found the lump that is the herald of your clogged milk duct, begin to massage it like you would a knot in a muscle, though not quite so rough. Massage the lump in circular motions to try and break up the clog, do this before feedings or pumping to clear it. Depending on where the clog is, you can also use your baby to massage it. Position them so that their chin presses on the lump when they suckle. However, if you have to hold your baby upside down to get their chin to massage the lump, you probably shouldn't do it.
Empty the Breast - It may be uncomfortable, even painful, but a clogged breast still needs to be cleared. Give your baby the affected breast and let them suckle to their heart's content. If they aren't doing a good enough job of completely draining the breast, you may have to break out your pump to finish the job. A clogged duct needs to be kept completely drained in order to heal properly.
Apply Heat - To treat the soreness and to help break up the clog, try applying wet heat to the effected breast. The most effective way is to take a hot shower and let the hot water hit the area, but you probably don't have time for a nice shower before each feeding. Instead consider a wet compress like a washcloth that you can apply frequently.
Loosen Up Your Top - As compression of your breast is a cause for clogged milk ducts, it might be time to loosen things up in your chest area. Make sure bras aren't too constricting and your shirts aren't too tight. It is best to go without a bra whenever possible to let things decompress fully. Loose and comfortable nursing wear can be very helpful in this case.
Call your doctor or provider if you have more trouble with the clogged milk duct, especially if you get a fever as that is a sign of possible infection. You should pay attention to the issue and see how it clears within 24 hours. Worse pain, such as red streaks coming from the affected area, fever, and chills could be a sign of mastitis.
Keep going mama! You're doing a great job!