If you are breastfeeding, then it is not uncommon to suffer from a clogged milk duct at some point. The amount of pain can take you by surprise too.
If you do not deal with it quickly, then you may end up suffering from a condition known as mastitis, which is even more unpleasant.
On this page, I am going to teach you how to clear a clogged milk duct while pumping, but a lot of this advice is also suitable for those breastfeeding too!
What is a clogged milk duct?
Milk travels to the nipple (and ultimately into your child’s mouth) through a network of ducts known as ‘milk ducts’. For the most part, travel through the milk ducts should be easy. Everything should flow easily.
This is until there is an obstruction in one of the milk ducts. This can cause milk flow to slow down or stop completely. As I said; it is painful.
Clogged milk ducts can happen for seemingly no reason. In most cases, however, it is because of one of the following:
- You are not breastfeeding or pumping regularly enough
- Your bra is too tight
- There was a pressure on your breast which compressed a milk duct
No matter the cause, you need to deal with the problem quickly.
How do you know if you have a clogged milk duct?
There are a few ways to know whether you have a clogged milk duct. This includes:
- Pain in the breast
- A small lump appearing on the breast
- Slower milk flow from one breast
If you are dealing with fever-like symptoms in addition to the pain, then there is a strong chance that you now have mastitis. This is going to be even trickier to deal with.
How to clear a clogged milk duct while pumping
So, now onto the main event. I am going to teach you how to deal with that clogged milk duct. Remember; you have to clear it out quickly, or you are going to be causing way more issues for yourself.
This is probably the most effective way to provide yourself with relief.
If you want to unclog your milk ducts, then the milk needs to come out. The only way you are going to be able to do this is by pumping it.
Related: Here are the best breast pumps for first time moms
I know that it is going to be painful at first. There isn’t really much that you can do about that.
However, I can promise you that the second that clogged duct is relieved, it is going to be one of the most pleasant experiences ever.
Of course, pumping regularly is also the best way to prevent clogged milk ducts from occurring in the first place.
Massage the Breast (or Get Your Partner to Do it For You!)
Again, this may be a bit painful, but you will need to fight through that pain if you want to clear the clogged milk duct.
One tip that works for many women is to gently massage the clogged milk duct, or just ask your partner to give you a bit of assistance.
The idea is that you will be gently massaging the blockage towards the nipple. You should be pumping your breasts at the same time. In most cases, this should be more than enough to remove a simple blockage.
Use a warm compress
Before you use a breast pump, you may want to use a warm compress over the blockage. You should leave it in place for a couple of minutes.
The idea is that the warm compress will help to soften up the blockage, which should make it a bit easier for it to complete its passage towards the nipple.
This is a technique that tends to work best if the blockage is fairly new. If it is an advanced blockage (i.e. has existed for more than a few days), then the warm compress may not have much of an impact. You can still try it out anyway ‘just in case’, though.
Use a lactation massager
Clogged milk ducts are such a common problem that a few geniuses have invented some tools for clearing them out. One of these tools is called a ‘lactation massager’.
This is really just something that vibrates very gently, much in the same way you would be massaging your breasts. It does tend to be more effective on serious blockages, though.
You do not have to be breast pumping when you use a lactation massager.
If you really cannot afford a lactation massager, then you can use pretty much anything that vibrates gently. Think along the lines of an electric toothbrush.
Use a Comb
If you have a wide-tooth comb, then lather it in a bit of soap and hop in the shower.
You can then massage the blockage gently. You will want to be pushing the blockage towards the nipple.
If the shower is warm when you do this, it may make the process a little bit easier, much in the same way as if you were using a warm compress.
Normally when you breastfeed or pump, you will be laying down. Some people find that dangling their breasts over the baby or the breast pump will allow the blockage to be cleared a bit easier. Gravity will be doing all of the work.
It can be a bit awkward to get into the right position, but dangle pumping has been known to free some pretty horrendous milk duct clogs.
Supplement with Lecithin
Lecithin is a natural occurring substance and often found in many food products as food additive.
Lecithin is a phospholipid which is basically hydrophobic (affinity for fats and oils) and hydrophilic (affinity for water) elements.
This helps prevent the breast ducts from getting plugged by decreasing the stickiness of the milk.
To help unclog or unplug your milk ducts, you can take 3-4 softgel tablets of lecithin (usually 1,200mg) for about 1 – 2 weeks.
You can reduce the dosage by a tablet a week once you feel there is no blockage.
Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory. This means that not only will it help to relieve the pain, but it can also reduce swelling in the breast which can free the blockage.
Epsom Salts and Haaka Pumps
Finally, if you have a Haakaa Pump, then you can use this method:
- Add two tablespoons of Epsom Salts to the pump
- Fill it up with warm water
- Form a suction around your breast with the pump
- Leave in place for 10-minutes.
If you follow these tips, then you should be freeing up that clogged duct within a few hours. You really want to be clearing it out within 24-hours at the most.
After that, you are at a strong risk of infection.
Remember; for the future, try to pump regularly. You may even want to try going braless. Put as little pressure on the breasts as possible, and clogged ducts may be a thing of the past.
If things do not improve after all the suggested solutions above, it may be wise to seek professional help such as a lactation consultant or doctor.