Clogged Milk Duct

Pregnancy & Postpartum

Q:

I am 23 years old. I was breastfeeding my 12-month-old boy and weaned him several weeks ago. Now I am experiencing some pain in my right breast, as if it were clogged. What can I do to take care of this problem?


A:

First of all, congratulations on breastfeeding your son for so long! I hope you know you've given him the best possible start in life. Studies find that breastfed infants have a reduced risk of infections, including ear and respiratory infections, diarrhea, and meningitis, sudden infant death syndrome, appendicitis and allergies. Also, children and adults breastfed as infants are less likely to develop childhood lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple sclerosis, as well as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, childhood obesity, overbites and celiac disease.

Plus, human milk enhances cognitive development, antibody response to routine immunizations, and your child's visual development. And even though you've weaned your son, breast milk continues to provide immune system benefits to infants well beyond two years.

As if that weren't enough, breastfeeding also has benefits for the mother, with studies finding that women who breastfeed may have a lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and poor bone mineral density.

Now, it sounds as if you might have a clogged milk duct. That sometimes occurs after weaning because, even though you're not nursing, your body is still producing some milk. In fact, women generally continue to produce milk for about 45 days after complete weaning, with some women continuing to produce milk for several months. Since the baby is no longer emptying your breasts, milk can back up in the ducts.

This is generally not a problem, but left untreated it can develop into a more serious infection called mastitis, which usually requires antibiotics. You'll know you've developed mastitis if you have a fever and feel like you have the flu. Usually, there's also a tender, red, wedge-shaped area on the surface of the breast. Left untreated, mastitis can develop into a breast abscess, which may require significant medical treatment, including surgery.

So it's important to treat that plugged duct now. Try the following:

  • Use heat, such as warm showers, hot wet pads, or a small, hot water bottle to loosen the plugged duct.
  • Massage the affected area several times a day while the breast is warm.
  • Pump or express milk in the affected breast.
  • Make sure you're wearing a properly fitted bra. Bras that are too tight can lead to plugged ducts.

If your symptoms get worse, or you develop a fever, see your health care professional as soon as possible.

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