One of the worst parts about pumping was dealing with clogged milk ducts. I dealt with clogged ducts frequently in the first few months after my daughter was born, and they were so painful. The first time I had a clogged duct, I was desperate to relieve the pain. I wanted to work the clog out as quickly as possible to prevent mastitis.
So, how do you prevent and clear clogged milk ducts when pumping?
To prevent clogged milk ducts pump until empty, do not skip pumping sessions and be sure to wear loose clothing. To clear a clogged duct: get the milk flowing with heat and massage, and get the milk out by pumping frequently and in different positions.
I eventually figured out the root cause of my clogged ducts and was able to prevent them. In the process, I became a professional at removing the clogs quickly. Here are 25 of the best tips I found to prevent and clear clogged milk ducts.
How Do You Know If You Have A Clogged Milk Duct?
A clogged milk duct is a small, painful knot or lump in the breast. It usually happens only on one side. When pumping, you may notice a decrease in milk supply on that side.
A clogged duct will not go away on its own and it may lead to mastitis if it is not treated quickly. Mastitis is a serious condition and you should immediately consult with your doctor if you are concerned.
How to Prevent Clogged Ducts
Tip #1 – Ensure That You Are Completely Empty When Pumping
To be sure you are empty, try massaging during your pumping sessions. This will make sure that all of the milk is expressed during each pumping session. Something else to try is hand expressing. Hand expressing after pumping can squeeze out any last drops that the pump was unable to remove.
After having recurring clogged ducts, I realized that I was using a flange size that was too large. The large flange size was compressing my milk ducts and preventing me from fully emptying. Once I switched to a smaller size pumping flange, I was able to empty more easily and I had clogged ducts much less frequently.
Tip #2 – Avoid Missing Pumping Sessions and/or Weaning Too Quickly
If your baby suddenly starts to sleep through the night, continue to pump at your regular time. Slowly space out times between pumping/nursing. It is important to gradually lengthen the time between pumping sessions. This will allow your body to gradually slow down milk production at night.
Tip # 3 – Avoid Extra Pressure On Your Breasts
Clogged milk ducts can form if a bra or shirt is too tight or restrictive. Underwire bras can dig in and cause a duct to become clogged. Wearing a loose bra and loose-fitting tops will prevent pressure from constricting your breasts.
Another source of pressure is sleeping on your stomach or on one side all night long. To prevent a clog, there will be less pressure on your breasts if you sleep on your back or alternate sides throughout the night.
Tip #4 – Try A Different Flange Size While Pumping
Trying out different flange sizes is what ultimately helped me to prevent getting clogs. I realized that the flange size I was using was too big, pulling in too much of my areola, and putting pressure on my milk ducts. They would constrict when I was pumping and I couldn’t effectively remove all the milk. Once I switched to a smaller flange size, I stopped having clogs every week. Try out a smaller or larger flange size to determine what works best for you.
Tip #5 – Take Sunflower Lecithin Daily To Prevent Clogged Milk Ducts
Sunflower lecithin works to prevent clogged ducts by making milk less sticky. When taking this supplement regularly, the milk may flow easier.
Sunflower lecithin was a life-saver for me. The two main things I did to prevent recurring clogged ducts were to change my flange size and take sunflower lecithin daily.
How to Treat Clogged Milk Ducts
A clogged milk duct is relieved once the clog is removed. The knot will be gone and you may feel immediate relief and a forceful letdown as the backup of milk flows out. Whenever I pumped out a clog, I would typically pump 2 or 3 times my normal output on that side. This would make up for the lower output I had during pumping sessions earlier in the day.
Get The Milk Flowing
The first set of tips to treat a clogged duct all revolve around encouraging the milk to flow. A clogged duct is a backup of milk, so once the milk is flowing, the clogged duct may be released. Sometimes following these steps may be all that you need in order to relieve the clog in your next pumping session.
Tip #6 – Take A Hot Shower
Take a hot shower in order to help get the milk flowing from the clog. stands in the shower and then allow the hot water to beat against the spot where the clog is located. You can also try massaging clogged duct while you’re in the shower. The warm water can relieve pain, soften tissue, and can help make it easier for you to work out the knot.
Tip #7 – Use A Warm Compress
Heat from a warm compress will help to get the milk flowing again. Apply the warm compress on top of the clog as well as on the surrounding area. When I had clogs, I would leave the warm compress on for 5 or 10 minutes until the compress started to cool. Then I would start massaging and pumping to help the clog come out.
This tip works because breast milk has a lot of fat in it. You can think about a clog as if it is sticky butter. The fat in the milk, like butter, will flow better if you use heat to melt the fat.
Tip #8 – Apply Coconut Oil And Lavender Oil To The Clogged Duct And Self-Massage
Massaging is critical to helping work a clog out. Apply coconut oil and lavender oil on top of the clog and the surrounding area. Start by using your hands, massaging on top of the clog and using motions to move towards the nipple. This may be painful because the spot where the clog is can be very tender.
Tip #9 – Use Vibration To Massage The Clogged Milk Duct
I had difficulty using hand massage to clear my clogged ducts. When I started using an electric massager, it was insane how quickly I could get the milk flowing again.
Look around your house for an object that vibrates. Try using it on top of the clog, and massaging from the clog towards the nipple with the same motions you used with your hands.
An electric toothbrush works for some women. I tried the toothbrush and it wasn’t strong enough for me. If an electric toothbrush doesn’t work for you either, then you can try a lactation massager. I used mine on a regular basis. It was helpful in speeding up my pump sessions in addition to helping me clear clogged ducts. Here is a link to the lactation massager that I use.
Tip #10 – Take Sunflower Lecithin To Clear Clogged Milk Ducts
In addition to preventing clogged milk ducts, sunflower lecithin also works to clear existing clogged milk ducts. It helps by making the milk less sticky. After I’d taken a few doses of sunflower lecithin, I would be able to pump out the clog. This supplement is a good form of choline and is derived from sunflower seeds. In order to clear a clog, I took 1 pill with each meal until my clog was gone.
Tip #11 – Drink Plenty Of Water
As soon as you notice the clogged duct, be sure that you are keeping up with your water intake. Staying hydrated helps your body to produce milk and can help prevent plugged ducts. I notice that I always feel a little bit better when I’ve been keeping up with drinking water.
Get The Milk Out
These next tips include several different methods to help remove the clog and the milk that is backed up behind the clog. Whenever I had a clogged duct, I pumped much more frequently than my normal schedule to try and work it out.
Tip #12 – Try Different Positions When Nursing or Pumping
One tip that has helped a lot of women is to use gravity to help remove the clog. This may seem odd, but some women swear by this method. If you are nursing, then “dangle nurse”. This means to get on all fours and have your baby lie with their back on the ground. Line up your baby’s chin with the clogged duct and nurse.
If you are pumping, you can do the same thing. Get on all fours and “dangle pump”. Be sure that your breasts are pointing towards the floor so gravity can help work the clog out. Move the pump flange around your breast in different directions to make sure you’re removing milk from all the ducts.
Tip #13 – Nurse And Pump Frequently
Sometimes by nursing or pumping more frequently than normal, you may be able to work the clog out on its own. My normal schedule was to pump every three hours, but when I had a clog I would pump every one or two hours to help work it out.
When I was four months postpartum, I usually slept longer stretches at night for about 6-8 hours. If I had a clog I would set my alarm and pump during the middle of the night in order to help my body work out the clog.
Tip #14 – Check For A Milk Bleb (Clogged Pore) On Your Nipple
A milk bleb is a clogged nipple pore. It will look like a white or yellow spot. Work to clean off the white spot on your nipple. Try soaking your nipple in warm water and wiping carefully with a clean washcloth to remove the bleb and any dried milk. Sometimes clearing the milk bleb will be all that is needed to get the milk flowing again.
Tip #15 – Have Your Significant Other Help
One of my mom friends swore by this method. She said that she asked her husband to assist by sucking out a clog that she couldn’t work out herself by massaging and trying all the other methods. I understand the desperation and willingness to try anything to remove the clog. If you are your significant other are up for it, you may want to ask for some help.
Reduce Inflammation And Engorgement To Relieve Clogged Milk Ducts
A clog can lead to pain, inflammation, and breast engorgement. This set of tips are to give you some ideas to help reduce the inflammation and engorgement. If your breasts are too engorged, it may be difficult for your pump flanges to fit properly or for your baby to latch on if you are nursing. These tips will most likely need to be combined with some of the earlier tips in order to fully remove the clog.
Tip #16 – Loosen Your Bra. Don’t Wear An Underwire Bra or a Tight Shirt.
Wear loose clothing and a loose bra. Constrictive clothing can make the inflammation and engorgement worse.
Tip #17 – Use A Thinly Sliced Potato or Grated Potato To Relieve Clogged Milk Ducts
A potato has properties which can really help to cool things down. It may also help to reduce inflammation.
To use a potato to reduce inflammation from a clog, slice a potato very thin. You can also try grating the potato in a cheese grater to increase the healing properties. Put the slices all around the tender area on your breast and then wear a loose bra to help hold the potato against your skin. Leave it on for an hour and swap out with new potato slices as needed.
Tip #18 – Drink A Cup Of Raw Pineapple Juice To Relieve Clogged Milk Ducts
Bromelain, an ingredient found in raw pineapple juice, helps reduce swelling and inflammation. It is best to drink the freshest pineapple juice you can find to ensure it has the greatest amount of this enzyme.
Tip #19 – Use Chamomile Leaves To Reduce Inflammation
Chamomile leaves have been used for centuries as an herbal remedy to reduce inflammation. Take two or three bags of chamomile tea and steep it for 15 minutes.
Allow the tea bags to cool slightly, being careful so it is cool enough to not burn your skin. While the tea bags are still warm, apply to your breast and let it stay until it cools. Repeat this process several times throughout the day to reduce inflammation and swelling.
If you do not have chamomile tea, you can also try this process with plain black tea bags. However, the chamomile has extra anti-inflammatory properties to bring down swelling.
Tip #20 – Use Epsom Salt To Reduce Breast Engorgement
Draw a warm bath and dissolve Epsom salts into the bath. Soak in the bath for at least 15-20 minutes. Be sure that the area with the clog is under water in the bath. This will help you to get the most benefit from the Epsom salt bath. You can also combine this tip with massage to work on moving the clog out.
Another option I heard about from one of my friends is to dissolve Epsom salts in warm water in a haakaa pump. Then, attach the haakaa to your breast and let it soak for 10 minutes to help the clog come out.
You can read more about using epsom salt and the haakaa trick here.
Tip #21 – Take Ibuprofen To Reduce Swelling
Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory drug. It may help reduce the pain and swelling from the clog. Once the pain is reduced, you may have a greater tolerance for massaging deeply to loosen the clog and pumping more frequently to remove to clog.
Tip #22 – Create a Warm or Cold Compress With Cabbage Leaves
Cabbage Leaves can be used as a warm compress by putting them in the microwave for a few seconds. Be careful that they are not too hot before placing them against your skin inside your bra.
If a cold compress is more soothing, take cabbage leaves straight from the refrigerator. Place them against your skin inside your bra. Change out the cabbage leaves every hour.
Be careful if you use cabbage leaves because they are known as a natural remedy to reduce milk production.
Support The Immune System And Prevent An Infection
The final set of tips are to support the immune system. With a strong immune system, your body can help fight off an infection.
Tip #23 – Use Phytolacca To Treat Clogged Milk Ducts
Phytolacca is a homeopathic medicine that stimulates the lymph system. It can be used to help fight off inflammation or infection.
Tip #24 – Eat Raw Garlic
Eating a raw clove of garlic is known to support the immune system. Eating a whole raw clove of garlic every two hours will help the immune system fight off infection. Continue eating garlic for at least 24 hours.
Tip #25 – Take Probiotics
Several studies have found that probiotics have been found to reduce the recurrence of mastitis. The studies have found that specifically, these two strains of probiotics L. fermentum or L. salivarius strains work the best. For more information on these studies, check out the link under “References” below.
Clogged ducts are a huge pain when pumping. Most women will need a combination of these tips to prevent and clear clogged milk ducts. I found that a few of these tips, like taking sunflower lecithin and massage greatly helped clear clogged milk ducts when I experienced them.
Disclaimer: This is by no means meant to replace advice from your doctor or IBCLC. If you have a concern it is best to speak to your doctor. If your condition worsens, please consult with your doctor as soon as possible.
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