Whether nursing or pumping, it seems like blocked milk ducts come with the territory for the majority of moms. A blocked milk duct occurs when the flow of milk is obstructed in one or more milk ducts.
Although it typically starts off as a hard, small lump in the breast, it can quickly turn into a serious issue that can negatively impact your milk supply as well as your breastfeeding journey. Worse yet, if left unresolved, it can turn into an infection called Mastitis. Being aware of the causes of this common problem and the remedies for them, is key for prevention.
Here are 8 of the most common causes and effective remedies for blocked milk ducts!
Cause: Infrequent or skipped feedings
It may be super tempting to skip a feeding or pumping session if perhaps your nipples are really irritated, or you just want the extra hour of sleep. Trust us mama, we get it! Although skipping a session once in a while may not have a negative impact on your supply, frequently skipping feeding sessions and not emptying your breasts for long periods of time, puts you at a higher risk of developing blocked milk ducts.Remedy
Blocked milk ducts suck, they're painful and can negatively impact your milk supply. So try as much as you can to remain diligent in removing the milk from your breast. Yes, even with a blocked duct- do not stop breastfeeding. What's important here is keeping the milk flowing— whether through nursing, pumping, and/or even hand-expressing so that the chances of it settling and thickening in your ducts is reduced.
During the earlier weeks of your pumping journey, you should aim to express milk at least every 3 hours. Emptying your breasts properly each time is key to preventing more blocked ducts, and reducing the risk of mastitis. Our Lactation Massager is designed to help work out clogs and improve milk flow. The sooner you work out the clog, the easier it is for them to pass. If you have a stubborn clog or on the verge of Mastitis, you may benefit from using our Duct Flow Tincture.
Cause: Improper latch/suction
Whether it's your baby who has trouble latching onto your breast, or your breast pump's weak suction due to worn-out duckbills— both of these will result in your breast not being emptied properly, increasing your risk engorgement, blocked milk ducts, and mastitis. Poor latching can also contribute to nipple irritation and trauma if not resolved quickly.Remedy
If you have sore nipples, pain while nursing, or you notice your nipples are flat, your baby might not be latching properly. It’s best to speak with a certified lactation consultant to evaluate your latch. Sometimes just a few adjustments can make all the difference for you and your baby.
Or if you notice a strange sound coming from your pump bottles, or your supply dropped all of a sudden, it may be time to replace your pump duckbills or membrane (depending on your pump). Replace any old or damaged breast pump parts. During your nursing or pumping session, a massage roller can help move the milk forward to help improve emptying the breast.
In the interim if your nipples are sore, airing them out after each feeding, applying organic coconut oil, and using these 3-in-1 Therapy Gel packs, are all great ways to alleviate nipple pain and promote healing.
Cause: Breast milk oversupply
Mama, sometimes too much of a good thing can have not-so-good effects on your boobs and baby. From baby coughing and spluttering due to rapid milk flow, nipple biting (ouch!) to stop milk from flowing, digestion issues, and lots of spitting up, an overabundant milk supply can really put a damper on your feeding sessions. It also does is increase your risk of developing blocked ducts and mastitis.
If managing your oversupply becomes challenging, you may have to work to actively reduce your milk supply as it takes your body regulate milk production on its own. Because there are many factors that can contribute to this particular issue with milk production, reaching out to a Certified Lactation Consultant for assistance is the best course of action.
If you have a strong letdown, a silicone breast milk collector would be very useful for relieving pressure before latching baby on (to avoid choking ) and of course, collecting milk!
Cause: Prolonged nipple shield use
In certain instances, such as an inverted nipple, nipple shield usage can be beneficial. However, they are usually a last resort option and are not recommended for prolonged usage. Nipple shields place a barrier between your breast and baby. This impacts your baby's ability to empty your breasts properly and increases your risk of developing blocked milk ducts.Remedy
Unless there is an obvious issue resulting in the need for the use of nipple shields (includes baby born prematurely, tongue tie, etc...), all it may take to ensure that your baby is properly latched onto your breast is: a comfortable breastfeeding position and some encouragement to get your baby to open up its mouth wide enough to get in a large part of you areola and nipple. Speak with a lactation consultant to create a long term strategy for breastfeeding success.
If you have an inverted nipple, you can use a nipple everter to help make it easier for your baby to latch correctly. Over time, these tools can help loosen the nipple tissue, allowing them to stay out for longer periods of time.
Cause: Pressure on milk ducts
This can be caused by sleeping on your stomach, a bra or clothing that is too tight, as well as accessories such a cross-body bags. All of these things put pressure on your milk ducts and hinder your milk flow, increasing your risk of developing blocked milk ductsRemedy
Avoid tight fitting clothes, cross-body bags, underwire bra, and tight-fitting baby carriers. Look to invest in a comfortable nursing bra that will provide you with the support you need without suffocating your breasts.
Cause: Mom's diet
A diet rich in saturated fats and poor water consumption, can increase your risk of developing blocked milk ducts.Remedy
Experts recommend drinking about ½ to ¾ of an ounce of water (or other fluids) per pound of your non-nursing weight. For example, if you weigh 120 lbs, you want to drink at least 60oz. Water helps support your body as it produces milk, and also helps reduce the chance of getting clogged ducts. Having a reusable water bottle on hand will make it super easy for you to drink all that water!
If your diet is rich in saturated fats (think whole-fat dairy products), look into healthier alternatives that will help you cutback. Adding lecithin to your diet may also help if you suffer for recurrent blocked ducts.
Cause: Stress and fatigue
Unfortunately, stress induced by lack of sleep is very common in new mamas. New mama anxiety as well as physical changes due to postpartum, may result in you getting less quality sleep. The stress and lack of sleep can cause your body not to function optimally, increasing your risk of developing blocked milk ducts.Remedy
We know you’re a Super Mama but you need to rest as much as you can! If you are offered help, take it. Find a simple and effective self-care routine you can indulge in daily because mama, YOU matter. Taking the time you need to yourself is important not only for your emotional and mental well-being, but also for your physical well-being.
Reminding yourself to slow down, do breathing and meditation exercises, and rest whenever possible will help prevent exhaustion, which is the goal. Relaxing the body can also help your Oxytocin to be released which helps with letdown and milk flow.
Cause: Sudden weaning
Sudden weaning will absolutely cause breast engorgement and increase your risk of developing blocked milk ducts, because your body is not given the chance to gradually decrease its milk production.
Express enough milk from your breast to relieve the pressure and feel comfortable again. It's important that you don't overdo it, so your body does not think it needs to keep producing milk at the same rate. Hand-expressing or pumping while using our lactation massager will help relieve that pressure, get your milk flow, and also provide you with relief from pain associated with blocked ducts. Allow yourself enough time to gradually wean and cut out a nursing or pumping session every few days. Your body will automatically know the milk is not needed any more and begin to reduce your production.
These are just some of the risk factors that contribute to plugged ducts. Daily breast massage, heat, and vibration have been shown to improve milk flow and prevent plugged ducts from progressing to mastitis. Keep that milk moving mamma!
Disclaimer: If you have recurring plugged ducts, always consult your healthcare provider and lactation consultant to determine the cause. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.