by maipham

May 5, 2020

How peaceful and how amazing breastfeeding is.

Look at that.

It is the most precious and valuable connection between mommy and baby. Babies need their mommies for food, pampering, comfort and bonding. Mommies feel relaxed, happy and at peace when offering their babies all of those things. What's more special than that?

That's what I thought when I was pregnant. 

I thought my breastfeeding will be the most enjoyable time and moment for me and my little one.

Only I didn't know what's coming.

Clogged milk ducts.

If you are a mom already and still have no idea what it means, congratulations! You are one of the very few that do not experience the most painful thing in the world.

Yes I said it. Clogged milk ducts give you the most unbearable pain. For me, the pain is the worst thing I've ever known.

What's more, whenever I had clogged milk ducts, I had to massage my breasts, trying to unclog them. 

Imagine having bruises all over you, and then you have to press and squeeze them, then multiply it with 1000 times, you will understand what I meant.

However, if you can overcome it, breastfeeding can be the most amazing thing in the world. I still consider it the best decision I've made.

As someone with experience of having clogged milk duct over and over again for countless time (at least more than 30 times!) until later I figured it out, or my son figured it out, I'm confident that I know a thing or two that can help you.

What are clogged milk ducts?

Clogged milk duct is a condition where a blockage in a milk duct results in poor or sufficient drainage of the duct. This, in turns, results in milk being built up behind the blockage

The longer you have clogged milk duct, the more milk being stuck inside the breast, the more tension in the breast.

The clogged milk can form into lumps all over the ducts, causing serious pain for us mamas. In worst condition, you might get inflammation, fever, mastitis and abscess

What clogs milk ducts?

Clogged milk ducts are formed when milk accumulates and blocks the duct. There are some reasons that milk can accumulate:

  • Mama doesn't empty the breast after each feed
  • Mama doesn't clean the nipple well, or the fabric on the wipes stays on the nipple, causing the clog
  • Mama's food makes the milk too heavy and creamy, causing the clog
  • Mama has a lot of milk and the baby cannot drink it all

  • Baby has a weak latch, or doesn’t latch properly

  • Uncomfortable feeding position, causing pressure on the breasts

  • Clothes are too tight, bras are not well fitted or with underwire
  • Changing feeding schedule, causing skipped or unfinished breastfeeding session

How to prevent clogged milk ducts

Since the clogged milk ducts occur when milk accumulates in the duct, you need to clear the duct often. 

As your infant wants milk every 2 to 3 hours, you will need to clear the duct every 2 - 3 hours through breastfeeding or pumping.

To prevent clogged milk duct, you need to do everything that prevents milk from accumulating.

You need to empty the breast after each feed

If you breastfeed, make sure that your little one empties both breasts. Some signs that indicate your little one already empty the breast are:

  • You don't hear your baby swallowing
  • Your breasts feel soft and light, you feel no pressure in your breasts at all

If you pump your milk, your breasts are empty when you don't feel any pressure and your breasts become soft and light.

Your breasts will always create more milk even after your baby empty it. So use the signs above to estimate if your breasts are empty. Do not try to squeeze your nipples, because the milk always comes out.

You need to clean your nipples well

After breastfeeding or pumping session, there might be germs or bacteria in your baby's mouth or your hands, fingers or pump can get into your nipples, these germs or bacteria can go inside the duct, causing the inflammation and creating lumps and clogged milk ducts.

So you want to clean your nipples and protect them all the time, not from your baby but from the germs and bacteria.

Wash your nipples thoroughly with warm water, avoid using soap as soap can cause dry, crack or irritated skin. Use a warm cloth to dry your breast after washing.

Make sure you double check your nipples well to avoid any thread or fabrics or a tiny cotton ball is left on the nipples.

What I did was, I washed my nipples with warm water, used a warm damp cotton pad to dry them and then applied Medela Cream Purelan 100 on my nipples. I discovered the Purelan 100 on the day I had cracked nipples

That Purelan 100 helped to soothe the skin, soften it, cured the cracked nipples after only a few days, and I feel that it also creates a protection shield for my nipples.

What's more, the Purelan 100 is made from 100% sheep fat, which is safe for babies, so you don’t have to wash it off before feeding your little one.

Watch out your food intake, because some of the food can clog the ducts

A diet that is rich in saturated fat (like fat cuts of pork, beef or lamb, chicken skin, whole-fat dairy products…) and poor water consumption can increase the risk of having clogged milk ducts.

Also depending on each person's condition, some certain foods can increase that risk too.

In my experience, I seemed to have blocked milk ducts every time I overeat something that is too spicy, or I don't eat enough veggies.

Generally speaking, mommies should have a healthy balanced diet and a lot of water. Drink more water than your non-feeding usual self. 

Experts recommend drinking about 1/2 to 3/4 ounce of water for each pound of your bodyweight.

Water helps to support your body as your body needs a lot of water to produce milk, and lots of water also helps to dilute the milk, reducing the clogged milk ducts risk.

If you have a lot of milk and your baby cannot drink it all, you will need a milk pump to empty your breast after each feeding.

You breastfeed your baby, then clean your nipples and the breast pump, and then use the breast pump to get the rest of the milk out.

Take note though, the more often you pump and empty your breasts, the more milk you will produce. So if you don't want to keep producing too much milk, don't completely empty your breasts.

Pump your breasts until you feel they are light, but don't completely empty them.

Many first-time mommies don’t know how to latch. 

Wrong latching position, improper suction will cause trouble for your baby to latch onto your breasts.

This can result in your breasts not being emptied properly, increasing the risk of having clogged milk ducts. Besides, if not resolve quickly, wrong latching can cause nipple irritation, nipple pain and upset your baby.

You might have to ask a doctor to instruct you how to latch, but there are some signs that you are latching right:

  • Your baby's chin touches your breast, not the nose
  • You hear your baby swallowing and drinking the milk
  • You don't feel any pain in your nipple

Some signs that indicate you don't latch properly:

  • Your baby's nose is covered by your breasts
  • You see your baby sucking, but can't hear the swallowing and don't feel light in the breasts after feeding
  • You hear the sucking sound
  • Your nipples are painful as they are being pulled and sucked at

Make sure you have a comfortable feeding position, where both you and your little one are comfortable and you don't have to press against your breasts.

Wear comfortable clothes, especially a well fitted nursing bras

 Follow your feeding or pumping schedule, don't leave your breasts too full for too long

It is very tempting to shrug your shoulders and stay in bed for a little more while, your nipples are sore and you don't feel like pumping right now.

Yes, I feel it too. Sometimes my little one slept well at night and it already passed the feeding time but he was still sleeping? What should I do?

Should I wake him up or just stay in bed? I stayed in bed a few times, I got away safely a few times too, but at other times, I had to pay a price for it later.

Frequent skipping your schedule will put you at a higher risk of developing clogged milk ducts.

What to do when you have clogged milk ducts?

Trust me, the pain when having clogged milk ducts makes you want to say goodbye to breastfeeding forever. Screw breast milk, people develop formulas for a reason!

But try to stick with it, for your little one. Because this too shall pass. There is nothing more special than looking at your little one's eyes while feeding him.

And trust me, your little one loves you. He or she will always look at you while drinking milk. That's how the special bond was created.

Here are some home remedies for clogged milk duct.

The fastest, simplest yet the most effective: keep nursing your baby

Many people think that when you have clogged milk ducts, somehow the milk is contaminated and is no longer safe for your little one.

This is not true. At least when you don't have inflammation. 

The clogged milk is still milk, it is just heavier. It is still safe to give it to your little one.

Actually, the most effective and fast way to unclog the milk ducts is to keep nursing your baby. If you latch properly, your baby will know how to work to get the milk and suck the clogged milk out of your breasts.

Your baby is the most effective breast pump. So trust your baby and let your little one help you.

A warm shower

When you first experience the pain, you might try to take a warm shower. Let the shower flow directly to your breasts and increase the water pressure if needed.

With a gentle massage, some newly blocked milk ducts can open up and unclog this way.

With many cases, a warm shower doesn't really do the trick. You can try to stay in the shower from 15 to 20 minutes, or until you feel less pressure inside your breasts, then nurse your baby immediately.

Apply a warm pad

Anything warm: warm pad, warm shower, hot cabbage or other hot herbs that you might have heard of, the main purpose of them is to use the heat treatment.

As the heat will open up most things, including ducts, a warm pad, hot cabbage or hot herbs (they work just the same)

Once the ducts open up, try to gently massage from the front of the lump out, to loosen the lump and press the milk out.

Do not try to massage your entire breasts because it does nothing good but gives you pain. You need to massage the lump that is nearest to the nipple, once that lump is released, you can work your way up to other lumps deeper in your breasts.

Infrared light and massage and ultrasound massage

You might have heard of infrared light and massage or ultrasound massage. They proudly claim that they is the ultimate treatment for clogged milk ducts without pain

You imagine you just go to the clinic, take your top off, lay down, close your eyes and relax. Once they are done, your clogged milk ducts are gone and your milk can flow like a fountain.

Well, I thought so too. They even promise that there will be no pain.

So I went there. They did use an equipment and scan through my breasts like detecting metals. I felt my breasts get hot. Then they gave me a massage.

The massage was gentle and much better than the horrible massage I gave myself, but no pain? I don't think so.

I still felt the pain. Not quite horrible. Still bearable.

After the treatment, I was sent home and directed to nurse my baby immediately.

My take on it? They still use the heat treatment and massage and nursing, which is not something new. However, because of the ultrasound, the heat really goes deep inside your breasts into the ducts and opens up the ducts so much more.

If your clogged milk duct is unbearable and your baby can't seem to suck it out for you, you can consider the ultrasound treatment.

When you need to see a doctor

You need to see a doctor immediately if you have any of the followings:

  • Fever.
  • Swollen and red breasts.
  • Intense, unbearable pain.

They are signs that you have mastitis, which is an inflammation of breast tissue that sometimes involve infection.

If your breast is infected, or worst, has abscess, you will have to drain it out. The doctor will drain the abscess by using a needle and syringe

For larger breast abscesses, a small incision might be needed. This is extremely horribly painful.

Be wise, take good care of your baby and your breasts and listen to your body, get help if needed.

About the author 

Mai Pham

Mai Pham discovered her passion for writing a few years ago and she never stop thinking about it ever since. She finally took the leap and created Live a Worthy Life to brag about her smart ass (mainly just for fun). Enjoyed the fun writing brings, now with her new interest in everything-baby-related, she created Mommy Instinct, to tell mamas that it's ok that they mess up, that they don't know what the hell they are doing, and that it's okay to sit back and relax for a while.

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