How to Clear a Clogged Milk Duct

Nursing is undoubtedly among the most natural interactions a mom can have with her baby. However, this experience can be entirely different for each woman, which also means that it’s not always perfect. One of the most occurring complications concerning breastfeeding is a clogged milk duct, especially among first-time moms.

Although you might have an effortless milk flow one day, the situation could be completely different the following day. Your bosom feels like it is on fire, and you’re unable to produce more than just a couple of drops. If this happens to you, you’re probably suffering from clogged milk ducts.

What is a Clogged Duct?

In simple terms, a plugged milk duct is actually an obstructed flow of milk, taking place at a specific location in your breasts. A lot of time, this complication takes place if the fluid wasn’t removed quickly enough for any reason – if a pumping or feeding session was missed, for example.

Update - 2019.01.16It can also occur in case a mom’s breast tissue was irritated by a tight bra or if she was sleeping on her chest.

A blockage typically feels like swelling in the breast, and it can vary in size from peach to pea. Sometimes, a mother might even notice a small yellowish plug on the opening on her nipple. The affected area is usually red in color, and the section around the plug can feel “full,” even after a mom is done with breastfeeding.

Possible Causes

Figuring out what exactly is causing a plugged milk duct isn’t always easy. There are a lot of potential culprits – here are the most common ones:

  • Breast Pressure

As we already mentioned, wearing restrictive clothes or gear, such as tight bras, can sometimes lead to this complication. The same goes for lying on your chest while sleeping or lying on your chest for any other reason, such as exercising.

  • Residual Breast Milk

This is one of the most common reasons. The blockage is created when the breast milk isn’t fully removed in a timely manner.

  • Rapid Weaning

When weaning, a mother should give her own body enough time to get used to reduced feedings. Sometimes, the circumstances won’t allow this, and rapid weaning can become the cause of the blockage.

  • Bad Latch

The baby is unable to drink all of the mom’s milk if it’s not correctly latched to her breast. This results in the appearance of backup milk which can create a blockage.

  • Weak Pump

Similarly to a bad latch, a pump of poor quality is one of the most common reasons behind drainage issues.

  • Stress

Too much stress can cause any part of the body to stop running smoothly, and that includes breasts. Stress is an essential factor and something that can slow down a woman’s production of oxytocin, which is a hormone that assists with the release of milk. This is why it’s essential to take things easy and ask others to help you with your motherhood chores.

How to Clear a Clogged Milk Duct

All women who ever had to deal with this condition know that it needs to be taken care of as soon as possible. Otherwise, it can lead to a dangerous condition called mastitis, which occurs once the plugged milk duct becomes infected. So, how to unclog a milk duct? Here are a couple of methods you could give a try:

  • Clogged Milk Duct Pumping

To treat the blockage, a mother needs to empty the affected breast as often as she can. This means using the pump as often as possible. Try to use a heating pad or a warm washcloth on your breast before pumping – it can help with emptying. Moreover, try to use a hospital-grade pump, as they’re usually the most effective.

  • Massage

Between moist heat applications and feedings, try to gently massage your breasts. Give special attention to the firm area and move behind the plug toward the nipple with your thumb. Furthermore, try to do all of this when in the shower – being in the shower typically triggers the letdown reflex.

  • Varying the Nursing Position

For example, if you use the football hold, try the cradle hold or simply nurse while lying down. This will assist with draining all of the ducts.

Many mothers swear by the following method: place the baby at your chest with his or her chin pointed at the sore spot, have the baby latch onto the nipple, and then begin nursing. As you can already guess, this will direct the suction at the plugged milk duct.

  • Drinking Water and Eating Well

Boost your immune system by focusing on nutritious foods and make sure to drink plenty of water and other fluids in order to stay hydrated.

  • Considering Medication

A medication that could help you with relieving pain and inflammation is ibuprofen. However, it is important to consult with your doctor before taking any medicine, even if we’re talking about over-the-counter drugs.

Baby Breastfeeding

How Can I Prevent This Complication in The Future?

Here are a couple of recommendations on how to prevent this condition, as well as mastitis, in the future:

  • Breastfeed as regularly as you can and try to prevent yourself from becoming engorged. If your baby is finished with feeding and your breasts still aren’t empty, use a good quality breast pump.
  • Keep the pressure off the breasts. Wearing anything that applies pressure on your chest could cause the formation of a blockage.
  • Continue using massage and moist heat after each feeding session – it relieves the breastfeeding-related pain and prevents blockage.
  • Increase your intake of Vitamin C and fluids to keep the muscles energized and the immune system active.


Hopefully, some of these tricks will assist you in unclogging the ducts and letting the milk run free. Although this condition is not a medical emergency, symptoms such as intense pain, swollen breasts, and fever mean that you’re probably developing an infection and need to immediately pay a visit to the doctor.


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