Signs and Symptoms of a Blocked Milk Duct
A blocked milk duct (also known as a plugged or clogged milk duct) is a complication that can occur in women who are breastfeeding. The main symptom of a blocked milk duct is the formation of a hard lump in the breast, usually near the areola or nipple. The lump will usually be painful when touched, and the skin around the lump may become red.
While most blocked milk ducts can be treated after a few days of home treatment using the remedies below, it is important to note that a milk duct which remains plugged for too long may lead to a more serious breast infection called mastitis. This will usually be accompanied by fever or chills, and the skin around the swollen lump may become red, tender, and warm. Mastitis may also lead to blood or pus being discharged from the nipple, and the lymph nodes in the armpit on the same side of the infected breast may become enlarged. If you suspect mastitis, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible to see if you require an antibiotic to treat the infection.
Causes of Plugged Milk Ducts
A blocked duct can be caused by a number of factors when women are breastfeeding:
- Skipping feedings or incomplete feedings.
- Not fully draining out the milk in a breast during or after a feeding.
- A poor latch when the baby breastfeeds.
- Wearing a tight bra that is putting pressure on a milk duct.
- A cold or flu.
- Sleeping on your stomach, which puts pressure on the milk ducts.
- Stress or lack of sleep (both of which are common with a newborn).
With the home remedies below, most clogged milk ducts can be resolved within 1 to 5 days. As the ducts become unclogged, you may notice some thick clumps of milk being discharged. This may then be followed by a large amount of milk as the duct is drained. If the natural remedies don't resolve the plugged duct within 5 days, you should consult your doctor to see if it may be infected.
Home Remedies and Natural Cures for Blocked Milk Ducts
Breastfeeding Changes to Treat a Blocked Milk Duct
One of the easiest treatments for a clogged milk duct is to make a few adjustments in the way you breastfeed. These adjustments are also a good way to prevent future blockages. Here are a few good recommendations:
- Feed often in order to drain most of the milk from your breasts. If your baby gets full before your breast feels empty, use a breast pump to drain any excess milk. This will prevent the breasts from becoming engorged.
- Make sure your baby is getting a good latch. A poor latch is one of the leading causes of a plugged milk duct, since the milk may not be draining evenly from the breasts. Consult a lactation consultant if you need help.
- Try changing your baby's position when you breastfeed. This may help to expel milk from certain milk ducts that may not be draining as much as others. A new position may also help to improve latching if you are experiencing latching problems. A recommendation is to try to position the baby so that the baby's chin is pointing towards the blocked milk duct.
Breast Massage for Treating a Plugged Milk Duct
Before and after each feeding, a firm massage of the affected breast is recommended. You can use your own hands, ask a partner to help, or even use a battery-operated handheld massager to do this. After the massage, use the thumb and index finger to try to squeeze out the blockage. Start by placing the fingers at the outer edges of the areola, and then press down and squeeze the fingers inward toward the nipple. Be sure to have a towel or cup close by in case milk begins to flow or spray out.
Blocked Milk Duct Treatment with Cabbage Warm Compress
A warm compress using a cabbage leaf is an excellent way to help loosen the blockage in a clogged milk duct. While you can also use a towel soaked in hot water, a cabbage leaf is preferred since its shape allows it to fit over the breast with ease. Simply microwave a cabbage leaf for a few seconds in the microwave and then place it on the breast for 2 to 3 minutes (make sure it is not too hot). Repeat this every hour throughout the day.
Clogged Milk Duct Treatment with a Potato Cold Compress
Many women have found that a cold potato can help relieve the pain associated with a blocked milk duct. Simply refrigerate a potato for a few hours, and then grate some of the potato. Apply the grated potato over the affected breast and cover with a clean wash cloth or towel for 5 minutes while lying down. Repeat this every hour throughout the day using some freshly grated potato. The cold potato helps to reduce the heat from the inflammation, which may help to unplug the milk duct.
Lecithin to Prevent Recurrent Milk Duct Blockages
Many women have found that lecithin supplements may help prevent recurrent plugged ducts. The theory is that lecithin increases the amount of polyunsaturated fatty acid in breast milk, which results in milk that is less sticky. This in turn may help to unclog a blocked milk duct and also prevent them from occurring again. A recommended dosage is to take one 1200 mg lecithin capsule 3 times per day for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, continue taking one 1200 mg capsule just once per day for as long as you breastfeed.
Blocked Milk Duct Home Remedy Using Vitamin C
Vitamin C has been found to help prevent and heal blocked milk ducts, since it boosts the immune system and helps reduce inflammation. It is also a great natural remedy for stress, which is a common cause of blocked milk ducts. A recommendation is to take 500 mg of Vitamin C supplements per day as long as you are breastfeeding. You can also increase your daily intake of foods that are rich in Vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, green peppers, and broccoli.