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What Does a Clogged Duct Look Like?

Although breastfeeding can be a rewarding experience and create a stronger bond between you and your baby, it’s also hard work. Not only can breastfeeding be taxing for you, but sometimes symptoms can arise out of the blue.

The last thing you want to deal with are sore or chapped nipples, or even worse, a clogged milk duct or mastitis.

All the techniques, tips, tricks, and positions to remember when breastfeeding can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re a first-time mom.

That’s why Greater Than made you this guide to help you know how to deal with the different sneaky – and sometimes painful – surprises that can happen during breastfeeding.

If you’re interested in learning more about the different occurrences during your breastfeeding journey and how to prevent them, keep reading!

What Are Clogged Milk Ducts?

What do clogged milk ducts look like? First, it’s important to know what milk ducts are.

Your milk ducts are tubes that carry your breast milk from your glandular tissue to your nipples. Your baby will pull the milk they need with their gentle sucking motions.

If you’re a breastfeeding mom who feels and looks like you have a small painful marble lodged in your breast, you may be experiencing a clogged milk duct. This can catch any mom off guard, but don’t panic!

This is a normal part of breastfeeding, and there are many things you can do to help loosen up your clogged milk duct.

What Causes Clogged Milk Ducts?

So, what causes your milk ducts to become clogged? Essentially, problems can arise if your duct isn’t draining properly during nursing or pumping. Your milk flow can slow down from clogged ducts.

The pressure that builds up behind the clog can cause your tissue to inflame and can quickly become tender and painful.

This means that anything from pressure on your breast from tight-fitting sports bras, infrequent feedings, or latching and sucking issues can increase your chance of a clogged milk duct.

You may also experience this if your breast isn’t completely drained after feeding, if your baby skips a feed, or if you’re under stress (which is common for new moms).

Unfortunately, certain risk factors can also increase your chances of developing plugged milk ducts, such as:

  • History of clogged milk ducts while nursing
  • Cracked skin on your nipples
  • Poor diet
  • Stress

What Are Clogged Milk Duct Symptoms?

You may have a clogged milk duct if you’re experiencing the following symptoms, such as:

  • A lump in one area of your breast, which may feel like a small and hard marble in your breast
  • If you have discomfort or swelling near the lump
  • The lump moves around
  • If there is engorgement around the lump
  • If you have discomfort that subsides after you finish feeding or pumping
  • There is redness and swelling in a specific area on your breast

How Can You Help Treat Clogged Milk Ducts?

As soon as you first notice a clogged milk duct, it’s important to consult your doctor.

The easiest and perhaps most effective way to help manage a clogged milk duct is to massage while feeding or pumping. Start at the outside of your breast and apply pressure with your fingers as you move towards the lump.

Nursing your baby can also help a lot. Continue breastfeeding as frequently as possible so they can help to clear it. Make sure you start with the breast that is affected, so it gets the most attention.

One position that can help during breastfeeding is dangle-feeding. When you get on all fours, crouch above your baby, and dangle your breast. The power of gravity and your baby can help!

Another effective way can be soaking your breast in a bowl of warm compress and then massaging the clog. Massaging your breasts during a warm shower can be helpful since the water can help loosen the clog.

These tips can help you unclog the milk duct, but it’s important to take control before the symptoms become more severe.

What Is the Difference Between Mastitis and Clogged Milk Ducts?

Unfortunately, you must address your clogged milk duct because they will not go away on their own. If you don’t seek treatment, it can turn into a breast infection called mastitis.

Mastitis is the redness and swelling of breast tissue that often involves an infection. If left untreated, it can result in an abscess that requires surgical drainage.

What Are Mastitis Symptoms?

If you have discomfort during feeding or any other related symptoms, you may have an infection accompanied by a fever.

Here are common symptoms of mastitis:

  • Having a flu-like symptoms
  • Warmth, swelling, and tenderness of your whole breast
  • Burning sensation and discomfort while nursing or pumping

If you believe you have mastitis, you’re not alone! One in ten women experience mastitis during their breastfeeding journey.

How Do You Treat Mastitis?

If you think your clogged duct has developed into an infection, it’s essential to check with your doctor as soon as possible.

If your clogged duct turns into mastitis, you will most likely be given antibiotics to treat the infection. This will take around ten days, so check with your doctor if you still have any related symptoms.

It can also help to take over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with discomfort.

How Can I Help Prevent Clogged Milk Ducts?

Although it’s common to experience clogged milk ducts during your breastfeeding journey, it can be helpful to be aware of how to prevent clogged milk ducts from happening in the first place.

Here are a couple of ideas on how to reduce your chances of getting a clogged milk duct:

  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting bras with an underwire that could compress your milk ducts
  • Allow your baby to nurse as long as they’d like
  • Talk to lactation consultants to make sure your baby has a good latch
  • Use a breast pump! You want to make sure your breasts are emptied after each feeding
  • Offer your baby both breasts when feeding
  • Make sure you have a supportive nursing bra that isn’t too tight
  • Be sure to stick with a regular pumping schedule if you pump exclusively

A Final Note From Greater Than

At Greater Than, we want to uplift moms and their families everywhere. We do that by ensuring you know all the ins and outs of what to expect as a mom, all while providing you with a hydrating electrolyte drink to keep you energized and ready to tackle whatever comes your way.

Although you can treat your clogged milk ducts at home, it’s always important to talk to your doctor if symptoms worsen, do not go away, or your clogged ducts have developed into mastitis.

We want to remind you that you’re in control! We know how overwhelming it can be when you’re a new mom, but we want you to know that you are not alone.

If you have any questions or concerns about your experience with breastfeeding, make sure to talk to your healthcare professional.

Sources:

Breastfeeding | CDC

Nipple Pain Remedies | American Pregnancy Association

Breast Anatomy | Cleveland Health Clinic

Insufficient glandular tissue (breast hypoplasia) | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Women's experiences of treatment for mastitis: A qualitative study | European Journal of Midwives

Slide show: Breastfeeding positions | Mayo Clinic

Steps and Signs of a Good Latch | WIC Breastfeeding Support

International Lactation Consultant Association

 

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