How to prevent and treat this common problem for nursing moms

Quick notes

  • If you experience a clogged milk duct, you will feel some pain, swelling, and tenderness near the area where the milk duct is clogged.

  • The best way to treat a clogged milk duct is by frequently emptying the breast by nursing or pumping.

Breastfeeding a newborn baby can be hard. Between the constant feedings and sleep deprivation, when something else gets thrown at you, like a clogged milk duct, it can be tough to recover.

A clogged milk duct is also sometimes known as a blocked milk duct. While this common problem for nursing mothers can be painful, it thankfully is usually only a short-term ailment that can be cleared up with a few simple home treatments.

Here’s everything you need to know about the symptoms and treatments for a clogged milk duct.

Clogged milk duct symptoms

The milk ducts in a woman are quite narrow. If these narrow passages become clogged, the flow of breast milk gets blocked. This will cause the milk to back up in the breast and cause some discomfort and pain for the nursing mother.

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If you experience a clogged milk duct, you will feel some pain, swelling, and tenderness near the area where the milk duct is clogged. You may also see some redness at the breast.

What causes a blocked milk duct?

While there is sometimes nothing you can do to stop a duct from being clogged, knowing some of the causes may help you prevent a blockage.

One of the most common causes of a clogged milk duct is an incorrect latch. If your baby isn’t latching on correctly, she may not be able to get enough milk out to empty your breast. If too much milk gets left inside your breast, it can build up and block the ducts.

One of the most common causes of a clogged milk duct is an incorrect latch

Letting your breasts get too engorged is another common reason for a clog. Since the milk isn’t getting emptied enough, the milk builds inside the breast and isn’t able to flow freely. This will happen if you miss feedings, wait too long in between feedings, or don’t pump an oversupply of milk. If your baby starts to gloriously sleep longer stretches at night, you may notice your breasts will become overly engorged as well.

Tight clothing may also put pressure on the breast, causing a clog.

How to treat a clogged milk duct

The best way to treat a clogged milk duct is by frequently emptying the breast fully. Nursing or pumping is the best way to release the flow of milk and unclog the block. Make sure to feed your baby every one to three hours, in the beginning, to regulate your supply and prevent a build-up.

You should always try to have your baby feed on the side of the clog first. Her latch is stronger in the beginning, and this may help unclog the duct. If it is too painful to start with the clogged breast, feed on the other side for the first few minutes until you feel the letdown. Once you feel it, switch breasts and continue feeding.

Every time your baby feeds, make sure the breasts are emptied. If your baby falls asleep or becomes full, take a hand pump, and release some more milk from that side to make sure it’s emptied.

Some other ways to ease the discomfort of a clog is by massaging the painful area with your hand while nursing. You can also put a warm compress on during a feed or take a warm shower and let the water run onto your breasts.

If you start to feel a fever, the chills, or if the pain worsens, call your doctor. These may be signs of an infection known as mastitis. If you need help with your baby’s latch, contact a lactation consultant right away.

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