If as a breastfeeding parent, you are not sure if you have ever had a plugged duct, I can tell you- you haven't. Plugged ducts are incredibly painful and can be downright stubborn to release. As a lactation consultant in the greater Cincinnati area for several years now (and 5x nursing mom myself!) I can share with you the best ways to prevent a plug from developing- and how to quickly find relief if one does!
Prevention is key.
1. Breastfeed or express your milk regularly. Aim for every 2-3 hours (or 3-4 hours overnight). Going too long in between feedings and pumping sessions can increase the likelihood of developing a plugged duct.
2. Remove milk efficiently. If your little one isn't breastfeeding well- causing nipple soreness or bleeding, slow weight gain, and poor diaper output- meet with an IBCLC ASAP. The IBCLC can help you target problem areas and get breastfeeding back on track. A quality IBCLC can equally support pumping parents who are facing challenges with pain and poor milk removal.
3. Wear properly fitting clothing and undergarments. Not all nursing bras are created equal. Some common troublemakers include underwires, cups that do not provide full coverage (and allow for the breasts to spill out in the middle), and additional flaps inside the cup that can put pressure on breast tissue. Be mindful of tight shirts and dresses, as well as the placement and fit of baby wraps/carriers, backpacks, and purses.
Comfort measures when a plugged duct develops.
1. Rest. Hydrate. Nurse. A plugged duct can also be a sign your body is under stress and needs a break. Get in bed and truly rest and nurse on the affected breast as much as possible.
2. Work on the clog from the nipple first. While you may feel a knot farther back in your breast, start at your nipple first. Think of when you have a tangle when brushing your hair. What's the best way to get the knot out? You start at the ends and work your way up. Do the same thing with your breast if you have a plugged duct. Now is a time when hand-expression is a very good skill to practice. Do this in addition to breastfeeding or pumping.
3. Try sunflower lecithin. (Ask your pharmacist or care provider first, of course.) Many parents have reported lecithin as being super-effective for busting up clogs. In my own personal experience with recurrent plugged ducts, sunflower lecithin has been a literal game-changer.
4. Try a new flange. For pumping parents, a new flange size may be in order. Pumpin Pals have been a fan favorite since I first began working with breastfeeding families 10 years ago. Their angled flanges have been preferred by many parents for years, and now they offer options to fit most major breast pump brands.
5. Warm soaks and massage. Hop in a warm shower and massage the affected breast. You can also use a wide-tooth comb: get the comb lathered up with soap, then gently comb down the breast. Outside of the bath, you can try an electric toothbrush or personal massager to bust up a clog. Place the base of the electric toothbrush over the pea-sized bump you feel beneath your nipple or areola and turn it on to mimic ultrasound treatment for plugged ducts.
Signs you should check in with your care provider.
If you note the following signs or symptoms, it's prudent to give a call to your care provider, as you may be developing mastitis and require medical treatment:
Have you ever had a plugged duct? What tips worked best for you?