Dealing With Clogged Milk Ducts

Breastfeeding a baby

Pretty sure anyone reading this who hasn’t had a child is like “WTF are clogged milk ducts?” For anyone wondering, it is yet another of the little-talked about annoyances of life after having a baby. So, if you don’t want to hear all about my milky boob problems, turn away now. However, if you’re currently nursing or planning on breastfeeding in the near future, or perhaps have had similar issues and are curious about someone else’s experience with the pain of clogged up milk tubes, why not stay awhile and listen?

The Clogged Duct

A quick intro for those of you in the dark; a clogged milk duct is when there is a blockage of one or more of the milk ducts in your breast. It can be painful and there is often a lump and/or redness where the blockage is. With a clogged duct you might be able to nurse a little bit or not at all from that breast, depending on the severity of the clog. Milk will continue to build up behind the blockage and can quickly become extremely painful. If the duct isn’t cleared it can lead to inflammation/infection called Mastitis.

My First Clogged Duct

When I had my first child in 2015 my milk took awhile to fully come in. My daughter wouldn’t nurse so I was exclusively pumping and supplementing with formula. After about a month she finally began to nurse and my milk supply started increasing. After a few weeks were no longer supplementing with formula and, while this was wonderful, I was also introduced to the pain of engorged breasts (Too much milk in the boob = pain). For awhile I was able to simply nurse often enough that it never got any worse than that, but very soon my daughter started sleeping longer and I woke up in the night with a massive pain in my right breast.

After some curious middle of the night Googling I figured out I had a clogged duct and that the best thing to do was nurse on that breast as much as possible. The only problem is if the baby is hungry and the milk isn’t coming because it’s blocked, she gets frustrated quickly and refuses to nurse. I spent my days doing this. Trying to get my daughter to feed from my right breast first, then ultimately switching sides when she got cranky. She got a small amount of milk from my right since my ducts weren’t completely blocked, but the whole breast was significantly engorged. The nipple also burned every time she nursed. Anytime she wasn’t attached to me I was pumping to try and clear the blockage. After three days the clogged duct finally cleared and all was well again.

The Saga of Clogged Ducts

A few weeks later I had another clogged milk duct. Same breast. Same pain. I tried warm cloths, pumping whenever I wasn’t nursing and changing the position my daughter nursed from. The position change seemed to help and it cleared up within 24 hours. The next time I had a clogged duct, which was about a month later (same breast), I tried all my previous methods of unblocking the duct, but it still took a few days to clear.

Over the year I had clogged ducts about once a month. I eventually got in the habit of hand expressing milk right before bed to make sure my breasts were completely drained in case my daughter had a long sleep without waking to feed, but the clogged ducts persisted. My husband and I booked a trip to Vegas when my daughter was nine months old and I ended up getting a clogged duct right before we left. Bad timing, but i just brought my breast pump with me and it cleared at the end of the trip.

The Complications of a Clogged Duct

A few weeks after our trip I had a clogged duct (again, on the right) that absolutely wouldn’t clear. It hurt so much I couldn’t put on a shirt without pain. I tried absolutely everything but nothing worked. This time it was a complete blockage and I wasn’t producing any milk from that breast. It hurt so much I went to a walk-in clinic, assuming it was mastitis. I didn’t actually have any symptoms of mastitis aside from the insanely sore breast, but the doctor put my on antibiotics anyway. (Without examining me at all)

Looking back, I’m pretty sure I just damaged my breasts by trying too hard to clear them and the extreme pain was simply from the engorgement… but after about a week it cleared up after extensive nursing and pumping. The pain, however, remained for months even when the milk was flowing fine. Unfortunately, an entire week of being unable to produce milk did have a lasting effect. My right breast barely produced any milk now and never got back to full capacity. Due to this there was a hilarious size difference between my two breasts that made bra shopping impossible.

Up until I stopped nursing when my daughter was 20 months old (because she started biting me!) I would still get clogged ducts every so often. I think I only ever had a clogged duct in my left breast once; fortunate because that one produced way more than the right ever did.

When I was finally done with breastfeeding I was quite happy for it to be over. My daughter didn’t even seem to care that the milk was gone, she just sort of accepted it and moved on. Whew. Seriously, weaning her off of breast milk was really easy.

Baby No.2

I’ve been nursing my second daughter for nearly three months now and it’s been less eventful than with my first, but it’s still early. I’ve had clogged ducts in my right breast twice now, the first time it lasted for three days, the second time it lasted for only twelve hours. The first time the clog seemed to actually move very close to the nipple so my nipple burned when I nursed, but the breast itself wasn’t too sore. The second time was quite painful and I was determined to get rid of it before it got bad. To Google I went.

This time I tried some new things. Well, mainly one thing. I read somewhere that you can use an electric toothbrush to break apart the blockage so that’s what I tried. First I put a hot cloth over the blockage then I used my electric toothbrush; using the bristly end right over where the blockage was. Before this I had been pumping and nursing straight for about seven hours, so that probably helped, but, after using the toothbrush I went back to pumping and it cleared immediately. Yay!

What Actually Worked?

It has seemed that doing a combination of various methods is what has worked so far: Nursing, pumping, warm cloth, altering the baby’s nursing¬†position, and always starting feeds on the breast with the blockage. I was really impressed with how quickly the electric toothbrush thing worked though. Fortunately, the blockage was close to the surface of my breast so that could be why it worked so well. A clogged duct that was deeper might not have been affected by the toothbrush.

Another thing I noted in my Google search of tips was to avoid putting pressure on the breasts. I’m not a stomach sleeper, but I do sleep on my right side. This made me realize that with my first child, I was sleeping mostly on my right side as well. Was that the problem? Just in case, I’m now trying to sleep on my back and left side only. I’m also spending most of my days bra-less (when at home) since a bra will put added pressure on the breast. I also tend to ‘sandwich’ my breast when I nurse to make it easier for my daughter to feed without having her nose covered; of course I’ve just learned this can also increase the likelihood of a clogged duct since it compresses the breast. Fun.

To Conclude

I’m optimistic that with all this new information I will be able to prevent any more clogged ducts. I still have at least a year and a half left of breastfeeding my daughter and I would really, really love to never have to deal with the pain of a clogged milk duct ever again. She still wakes up every hour or so to nurse in the night, but when she does start sleeping longer the risk for clogged ducts will increase. Maybe I should get a dedicated boob toothbrush?

Have you had to deal with clogged milk ducts? Did you find anything that helped clear the blockage? If so, let me know in the comments.



Sarah Soper

Registered Holistic Nutritionist with a passion for healthy food, sustainability, fitness, and non-toxic living.

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