Breastfeeding Basics: Dealing with Clogged Ducts

One of the most irritating things that can happen during breastfeeding is getting a clogged duct.

Clogged ducts can be painful and, if they don’t clear up, they can lead to a serious breast infection called mastitis so it’s important to know the facts about clogged ducts and how to treat them.  

Usually the first thing you notice with a clogged duct is a hard, tender lump on your breast.    It may feel very sore and you might be tempted not to feed your baby from that breast, but actually doing that would more than likely make the problem worse.  The best thing you can do for a clogged duct is to feed your baby as often as possible, making sure she drains the affected breast well.  If you’re not sure your baby has drained the breast you can also express using a pump following a feed.  Remember to feed from the other breast too, not just the affected one.

Massaging your breast gentle under a warm shower is a great way to help relieve a clogged duct and can be done as often as you like.  You could also use a warm flannel as this can help reduce inflammation and pain.  If you massage your breast in this way before feeding, it can help your milk flow easier, making it more likely your baby will clear the clogged duct as she feeds.

If you notice a thin stringy paste like substance when you’re expressing do not worry, this is the milk that was clogging the duct making its way out, so it’s good when it comes out as it means the clogged duct is clearing.  Even after it’s clear your breast may still feel sore and bruised for a few days, but this will gradually ease off.  Paracetamol is safe to take while breastfeeding and may help with the pain caused by a clogged duct.

In most cases, clogged ducts will resolve through continuing to feed but they can develop into mastitis if they do not clear up.  Mastitis symptoms are similar to flu in that you may have a fever, the affected area may be red and feel sore and hot to the touch and you might feel tired or weak.  If you think you may have mastitis, you should see your doctor to be checked over.  You may be prescribed antibiotics and it’s also important to rest and drink plenty of water.  You should keep feeding your baby from both breasts.

Prevention is always better than cure and, while sometimes getting a clogged duct is unavoidable, there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood of it happening.  Feed on demand and don’t miss feeds, ensure your baby has a good latch at all times, vary the positions you use to breastfeed (as this ensures more ducts are emptied), ensure you have a well fitting (not too tight) nursing bra.  Being aware of the signs of a clogged duct and acting early to help resolve it is the best way you can prevent it from becoming worse if it happens to you.