If you breastfeed, you probably know that a blocked or clogged milk duct is a painful and frustrating challenge that many nursing mothers encounter. Clogged milk ducts seem to come out of nowhere and can present a real challenge! In order to prevent the clogged duct from turning into mastitis or another infection, it’s important to release the clogged duct and get breast milk flowing again as quickly as possible.
What Is a Blocked or Clogged Milk Duct?
A clogged milk duct occurs when a breast becomes engorged and is not emptied regularly or properly.
This manifests itself in a painful engorgement of the breast and the inability to release the pressure with nursing. This can be difficult for mom, not to mention baby, who is expecting a full meal!
Why Does a Blocked Milk Duct Happen?
There are several causes of a clogged milk duct:
- Feeding Problems – If your nursing child is going through a transition in the frequency of feeding, or if your child is sick and not nursing as much, or if you are not feeding equally out of both sides, a clogged milk duct can occur.
- Feeding Position – An incorrect latch, or constant feeding in the same position, can cause a clogged milk duct.
- Improper Breast Care or Tight Bra – Too much pressure on your breasts can cause blockage. Try to avoid sleeping on your stomach. Also, make sure you’re wearing the healthiest and best-fitting bra, preferably without underwire.
- Plugged Nipple Pore – Sloughed-off skin cells combined with the fat naturally contained in breast milk may lead to a blocked pore or even physical blockage of a milk duct. Maintain breast health with some gentle dry brushing plus an Epsom salt soak may on a routine basis.
- Plain Ol’ Exhaustion – Having a baby is tiring in more ways than one! Lack of sleep can affect milk supply and even lead to a clogged milk duct.
Natural Remedies for Clogged Milk Ducts
Thankfully, there are ways to help avoid or relieve a clogged milk duct before it becomes painful. I’m not just talking about using a breast pump or taking a hot shower, either (although those may help!)
Here are some practical ways to support breast health and continuous milk flow when breastfeeding. (Also see these tips for increasing milk flow if low supply becomes an issue.)
1. Follow Good Breast Care Practices
Trust me, I know… as a nursing mama, there are already so many things demanding your attention. It’s hard to remember, but being constantly aware of the condition of your breasts is a key factor in preventing a clogged duct or mastitis.
When you go to nurse, feel your breasts for unusual hardness, warmth, or pain, which are symptoms of clogged ducts. If you’re feeling run-down, pay attention to the signs. The sooner you can employ these remedies, the faster the clogged milk duct will be relieved.
2. Change Up Your Nursing Position
We all have a nursing position that is most comfortable and convenient for us and baby. But when you feel a plugged milk duct, try changing positions. Your baby’s jaw applies the most pressure to the breast, so aim their jaw toward the clogged duct. Always nurse from the affected breast first.
3. Use a Warm Compress or Take a Shower
If it’s not too painful, take a shower with hot water (even just a warm shower helps, but use the hottest water you can stand). Let the water hit the affected area. Use your hands to compress and gently massage the clogged milk duct to try to get it to release. A heating pad may also help, but the moisture + heat of a warm washcloth on the affected area of the breast or a shower is best.
4. Soak in an Epsom Salt Bath
Epsom salts work wonders in all kinds of situations, and a clogged duct is no exception. While you soak, try to gently hand express a little milk to get things going.
5. Massage With Coconut Oil
After your shower, massage your breast with coconut oil. There are many benefits of coconut oil for the skin, and rubbing it into the breast up to your armpit can moisturize the tender skin and can help loosen the blockage.
6. Apply Lavender and Geranium Essential Oils
I have great respect for the power of essential oils and use them sparingly especially around babies and children for that reason. Lavender and geranium essential oils are two safe oils to use (when properly diluted) and work in tandem to reduce swelling caused by the blockage and relieve it. Dilute 1 drop of each in 4 tablespoons of carrier oil (olive oil or jojoba oil work well) and massage the breast, avoiding the nipple area. It’s best to do this right after a feeding so it has time to absorb before close contact with baby.
7. Put Potatoes in Your Bra (Seriously)
There’s no scientific evidence for this that I can find, but many swear it works! Slice organic potatoes and place them in your bra. Make sure it’s contacting the affected area. Leave these in your bra for an hour. Reapply as needed.
8. Consume Garlic
Garlic is an incredibly useful natural remedy, and it aids in resolving clogged milk ducts, too. When you’re battling a clogged milk duct, throw some extra garlic into your meals. But if you can handle it, the best and most effective way to use garlic in this case is to crush a full clove of garlic and consume it. (It’s best to do this every few hours). Add honey, a pinch of good salt, and water to help with the strong flavor and get it down.
9. Drink Pineapple Juice
Pineapple contains bromeliad, which helps reduce inflammation. Drinking fresh pineapple juice can reduce the inflammation that can trigger a clogged duct and also helps prevents the formation of other plugged milk ducts.
10. Increase Your Probiotic Intake
When you’re body is fighting an infection (or the genesis of an infection, like a clogged milk duct), it’s important to increase your intake of probiotics. An adequate amount of good gut bacteria can help your body eradicate and recover from illness faster.
The last, but possibly most important, remedy for a clogged milk duct is to rest. You’ve done all you can to unclog the duct and to shore up your immune system. Now, it‘s time to rest! Your body is working hard to prevent infection, and you can help its efforts by getting enough rest. Of course, if you’re nursing a little one, you might not be getting much sleep. Do your best to enhance the quality of the sleep you do get, and rest frequently during the day, even if that just means sitting down and putting your feet up while you read to the kids.
When to Get Help
It’s always a good idea to check in with a lactation consultant along the way. Even if you are a pro at breastfeeding, new situations can crop up. It’s comforting to have an expert on call as a back up.
Of course, if your plugged milk duct doesn’t respond to the above remedies or if you feel concerned in any way, seek the help of your healthcare provider. Even if an infection is not present, they may be able to help using therapeutic ultrasound or other methods.
Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms, which may be warning signs of infection:
- any hard lump in the breast, or an area of the breast appears lumpy
- pain radiating from one place in the breast
- hot or swollen breast tissue
- flu-like symptoms
- fever or chills
Have you ever remedied a blocked milk duct? What worked for you?
- Lavigne V, Gleberzon BJ. Ultrasound as a treatment of mammary blocked duct among 25 postpartum lactating women: a retrospective case series. J Chiropr Med. 2012;11(3):170–178. doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2012.05.011
- Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. SESSION 7, Management of breast conditions and other breastfeeding difficulties. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK148955/
- Jacobs A, Abou-Dakn M, Becker K, et al. S3-Guidelines for the Treatment of Inflammatory Breast Disease during the Lactation Period: AWMF Guidelines, Registry No.?015/071 (short version) AWMF Leitlinien-Register Nr.?015/071 (Kurzfassung). Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 2013;73(12):1202–1208. doi:10.1055/s-0033-1360115