8 Ways to Clear a Clogged Milk Duct

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

The second day we were home from the hospital, I was pumping and felt something strange in my right breast. It was like someone had snuck rocks into it. Painful, hard lumps permeated one side and I had no idea what was going on. I went to Google and sure enough, they fit perfectly with the description of blocked/clogged milk ducts.

From that day on, it has been one after the other. After 4 and a half months, I came down with mastitis for the first time last week and let me tell you, it’s not an experience I ever want to repeat. The combination of the 101 degree fever and the horribly sore spot in my breast (like someone had just punched me over and over and over), were misery. Thankfully I’m on the mend, but truly at least once a week I’m struggling with a clogged duct and I have one in particular that re-clogs whenever I go too long between pumping sessions.

Through research and way too much trial and error, these are the solutions I found for clearing a clogged milk duct.

1. Heat

This is always my first line of defense. If I know I’ve gone too long without pumping, sometimes I’ll pre-emptively toss some heat on it using these Lansinoh heat packs. They fit into my bra and don’t get everything soaking wet like a warm washcloth. This seems to be sufficient for small and just recently clogged ducts, though if they’ve been around for more than a few hours, I usually have to pull in some bigger guns.

2. Vibration

This was another one I found online that has helped in a pinch. Sometimes the clog needs to kind of be broken apart before it can be expelled and so when I can’t get it done with just heat, sometimes I’ll take my electric toothbrush and put the non-toothbrush head end on the spot and turn it on. It seems to help break things up when I’ve got a really persistent clogged duct or two.

3. Shower

This is kind of the best of both worlds. When nothing else is working and I can leave the baby for a little while (it takes a while for me, so it’s not a great thing to do when you have no one to watch the baby unless they’re asleep), I’ll take a super hot shower on very high and let the water beat against the duct that’s clogged. It doesn’t feel good at all, but it has always been a big help. It’s best if you can do it just before breastfeeding or pumping.

4. Massage

This is one I do every time I pump (you can do it with breastfeeding, too!), largely because I usually use massage as a way to increase my pumping output. But it’s also great for fresh or little clogs, and is really easy and requires no equipment or planning. It can also help prevent clogs if you feel around and make sure you’ve drained everything before finishing a feed/pump session.

5. Pump Longer

I truly have no idea if you can breastfeed longer than your baby wants to, but when I have a clogged duct, I always increase my pumping time to get at least one more letdown than usual. It’s no fun to be hooked up to this machine any longer than necessary, but neither is a clogged duct very fun.

6. Pump On Higher Speed

When I’m desperate and the clog has been around for a few days, I’ll hop in the shower then hook up to the pump at a way higher than normal speed. It is seriously unpleasant, but very effective. The discomfort of the high speed usually goes away within a few minutes.

7. Breastfeed With The Chin Pointed Towards The Duct

Since my baby hates my boobs, we’ve never done this, but lo have I wanted to. There’s evidence to suggest that if you point their chin toward the duct that’s clogged, they can more effectively drain it. As I said, this is the one I haven’t tried yet, but I’m told it can be quite effective, if a little challenging depending upon where the duct is.

8. Soy Lecithin

There have been a few papers written about taking the supplement soy lecithin to prevent and treat clogged ducts. The idea is that it changes one of the fats in the milk so that it is less likely to get stopped up. Keep in mind that all supplements have side effects of their own, so it’s best to talk to your doctor or midwife or someone who knows what they’re talking about before taking anything. For what it’s worth, I took the lecithin for a week and noticed that I was having a new issue with not enough fat in my breastmilk. Whether it was really the lecithin or not, I’m not sure, but it made me uncomfortable enough that I stopped taking it.

How do you get rid of clogged milk ducts?

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