At least in my experience, breastfeeding isn't for the faint of heart. While the benefits are incredible for both mom and baby, sometimes it can be downright unpleasant for some moms. I'll never forget the time I woke up to a huge, painful knot on my breast a few days after bringing my son home from the hospital. I panicked of course and Googled all night, wondering what a clogged milk duct feels like. But it wasn't just because I was newly breastfeeding, I was also freaked out because up until this point in my life, I associated all lumps in your breast to mean cancer. And most of all, this knot sure did hurt and I needed to know what to do to make it stop ASAP.
What A Clogged Milk Duct Feels Like
Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC and Motif Medical lactation director, tells Romper that a clogged milk duct can feel like many things. “Most women can feel the backed-up milk occurring with a clog. Clogs can be anything from a tender knot in the deep tissue, to a blocked outlet on the nipple, also known as a bleb,” she says. “Pain may also occur while having a letdown, as other channels push up against it, and while hand expressing.” Georgakopoulos adds that a clog can occur anywhere milk is stored or where it passes, which can be as far up as in the armpit area, to just behind your nipple. So basically, you could feel a clogged milk duct nearly anywhere in your breast area. Dr. Amna Husain, a board-certified pediatrician and lactation consultant, also tells Romper that clogs feel like a firm, sore lump in the breast and can sometimes appear red and warm to touch.
Causes Of A Clogged Milk Duct
She and Georgakopoulos both say that the cause of a clogged milk duct can range from a variety of things, such as incomplete draining during feeds, too much pressure on your breasts from restrictive clothing, an inadequate latch causing incomplete drainage, nipple damage and other secondary issues from poor latching, abrupt weaning, fibroids in the breast tissue, high stress, lowered immune system, or thrush or bacterial infections. Additionally, if you're pumping, an incorrect flange fit or pumping technique or too long of a stretch between pumping sessions can cause clogged ducts as well.
How To Treat A Clogged Milk Duct
So how do you get rid of this super uncomfortable condition? Georgakopoulos says to try dangling the breast in a tub of warm water mixed with epsom salt. Or you can “dangle feed” your baby — where the baby is laying down on a safe surface and you dangle your breast over to feed. She adds that vibration and shaking your breast gently, pumping, and staying hydrated can help, too.
Georgakopoulos also says that it’s important to continue breastfeeding your baby because it can help clear the clog faster. “If a clog leads to infection — mastitis — by the time symptoms are felt, the baby has already been exposed to the infection. Avoidance may occur, but it is not unsafe to continue breastfeeding.”
Remember, you don't need antibiotics unless you have a fever, which means the duct has formed into mastitis — an inflammation of your breast tissue that creates an infection, according to Georgakopoulos.
Additionally, Husain recommends applying a heating pad or warm cloth for 20 minutes to the milk duct. “Another pain relief is massaging your breasts in the shower. It is important to consider that the way the baby is fed might be affecting the clogged milk ducts,” she says. “You can change breastfeeding positions so that the baby's chin or nose points toward the clogged duct or dangle feeding so gravity and the baby’s sucking motion can work together.”
When massaging your breast, Georgakopoulos warns that it's crucial to realize your clog is in front of the backed-up milk, which is the knot most felt. You should massage in front of the knot to release the clog faster, because pushing behind it may add to the milk back-up, causing more pain.
And if you’re worried about a potential lump in your breast not being a clogged duct, Georgakopoulos says that a clogged milk duct should eventually clear. “It might be visible during a pumping session, but will eventually soften in a few days to a week. When in doubt, a mammogram may be needed to ensure.”
Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC and lactation director at Motif Medical.
Dr. Amna Husain, a board-certified pediatrician, lactation consultant, and founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics.