Usually, if you happen to find a hard lump on your breast, it can be a legitimate reason to be concerned. But if you’re breastfeeding, finding a hard or painful lump on your breast usually has a very logical explanation — a clogged milk duct.
Getting a clogged milk duct at least once during your breastfeeding journey is very common, and it’s usually harmless if it’s taken care of right away. However, if you don’t address clogged milk ducts immediately, they can lead to a more serious condition called mastitis, which is an inflammation of the breast tissue that may also involve an infection. That’s why it’s important to try to get rid of clogged milk ducts as soon as you notice them, and if they don’t go away in a few days or get worse, call your doctor.
Signs You Have a Clogged Milk Duct
If you can feel a small, tender lump in your breast that may look a little red or be sore when you touch it, you most likely have a clogged milk duct. All you have to do is follow the instructions below to get your milk flowing again and you should be fine.
Difference Between a Clogged Milk Duct and Mastitis
However, according to the Mayo Clinic, if you develop a fever or notice any of the symptoms below, you may have developed mastitis, and you should contact your doctor.
- Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
- Breast swelling
- Thickening of breast tissue, or a breast lump
- Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breastfeeding
- Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
- Generally feeling ill
- Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or greater
(Source: The Mayo Clinic)
What Causes a Clogged Milk Duct?
Clogged milk ducts occur when the milk from your breast isn’t draining properly. This can be caused by a baby having an incorrect latch, a malfunction with your breast pump that is causing it to not drain your breasts completely, or a change in schedule that causes you to go too long between nursing or pumping sessions.
If you feel that your breast pump isn’t draining your breasts completely, check your valves and membranes (they should be replaced every one to three months) and make sure the tubing is completely attached and doesn’t have any cracks in it. You can also go through this check list to figure out why your pump may be losing suction.
What to Do If You Have a Clogged Milk Duct
- Nurse More
Although this might seem counter-intuitive, the first thing you should do if you have a clogged milk duct is to nurse or pump as much as possible, letting your baby completely drain your breast (i.e. don’t take the baby off too early). One way to do that is to try new nursing positions that allow gravity to help you, such as getting onto all fours and having your baby underneath you. If it is too painful to nurse or pump on the affected side, try applying a warm washcloth to the breast before you nurse or hand expressing some of the milk out before trying to nurse.
- Pump More
If your baby isn’t completely draining your breasts, you might want to add an extra pumping session after each nursing session, going until the milk is just coming out in drips.
- Massage the Area
A great way to relieve a clogged milk duct is to hand massage the area, either right before you pump or nurse or while you’re in the shower. Use a circular motion on the outside of the breast and work your way closer to the lump. Don’t press too hard, though, or you might cause bruising.
- Apply Heat
Applying a warm compress (such as a warm washcloth) to your breast can help soften a lump. You can also try taking a hot shower as well.
- Avoid Tight Bras or Clothing
Sometimes, a clogged duct can be caused by a bra or clothing that is too constricting, so if you can, wear looser clothes and go without a bra for a few days to see if that helps.