When I started breastfeeding, I had no idea what a clogged duct was. I’d definitely never heard of mastitis. So when I found myself in pain and not feeling well, I had no idea what it was or what I had done to cause it.
The first thing I did was contact my lactation consultant and she helped me figure out what was going on. I had a clogged duct. It was super painful but it was bearable and I didn’t think much of it. It resolved itself with some massaging and dangle feeding my LC recommended.
Then my supply soared. I posted a video on Instagram of my milk spraying all over and a follower commented that I had better be careful with such an oversupply. She couldn’t have been more right.
From that point on, my clogged ducts turned into mastitis multiple times resulting in fevers over 104°, body aches, chills, and extreme breast pain. It was painful to nurse and my breasts were so tender that I had to hold them when I walked. And I sweat so much I could literally ring my hair out. I kept a towel underneath and on top of me in bed and a few more beside me to swap out throughout the night.
Clogged Ducts & Mastitis Defined
In short, clogged ducts are when your breast milk gets backed up and essentially gets stuck inside your breast. The milk dries up and creates hard knot-like feeling balls in your breast tissue. They can cause light fevers and may be very painful to the touch.
Mastitis is when a clogged duct gets out of hand. The clogged duct causes an infection inside your breast that becomes red and inflamed. You can literally see the redness glowing through your skin from the infection and your breasts will feel like they’re on fire. As will your whole body from a soaring fever and accompanying body aches and chills. Additionally, nursing is likely extremely painful and the sweating can be insane!
Basically, it’s like the flu with major breast pain. So it makes sense why it’s been coined with the nickname, “the boob flu”.
In the beginning of my breastfeeding journey, my body flip-flopped between an over and undersupply. And with the constant oversupply coming on so suddenly, I was plagued with recurring mastitis. Which means I had plenty of practice trying out different remedies to heal my body.
I'm not a lactation consultant but since I've had a lot of personal experience dealing with and trying out a variety of recommendations, I want to share what I found worked for me. Mostly I want to spread awareness as I'd never even heard of a clogged duct or mastitis until I was dealing with it in full force. And there are a few things about breastfeeding I wish I knew that could have prevented SO much of this! (I'm happy to point you to some experts if you're interested in learning more about that.)
Natural Remedies to Heal Clogged Ducts & Mastitis
Massage like it’s your full-time job. But not too hard! The goal is simply to loosen up the dried milk and extreme pressure isn’t needed to achieve that goal. In fact, when you massage too hard, you can cause even more inflammation.
Massage throughout the day but especially just before you nurse or pump. You want to remove the clog from your body so once you loosen it up, nursing or pumping will be the trick to getting it out.
I personally chose to avoid any extra pumping as I didn’t want to deal with more of an oversupply than I already was. And tour baby will be more efficient at sucking out the clog anyway. (I promise it won’t hurt him in the slightest!)
Use Moist Heat
Massaging works far better with moist heat. The simplest thing to do is massage in the hot shower with the water pounding on your breasts or in hot bath water. Better yet, add some Epsom salt to your bath water.
Another thing that really works well is to use a diaper. It may sound odd but just fill up a diaper with a little water, warm it up in the microwave for a few seconds and place over the clog before you start kneading it. Be careful though because those diapers get hot fast!
Try a Castor Oil Pack
This helped me a lot! I got rid of my last and worst bout of mastitis using this remedy. There’s a print-ready version of these directions at the bottom of the post.** **Come back to grab it! Currently, my cards aren't working and I'm in the process of having them fixed.
Wet a washcloth with warm water and cover it generously with castor oil. (This brand is great.) Put it over the infected area on your breast and place a piece of plastic wrap over it. And then place a heating pad on top of that. Hold in place for fifteen minutes or so. If you can massage while it’s on, go for it! Otherwise, as soon as you pull it off, start working at the clog so you can get it while it’s still warm and moist.
Empty Your Breasts Frequently
When I first got sick, I was overwhelmed with fear that I wouldn’t be able to continue. That the infection would cause my milk to dry up, or would be bad for my baby. But I quickly learned that continuing to breastfeed him wouldn’t harm him in anyway. (Although I experienced a significant dip in my supply that I had to work hard to increase after each bout of sickness.)
Nursing or pumping frequently is key to getting the infection out. Regardless of how much it may hurt, or how you choose to do it, empty your breasts frequently.
Avoid Tight-Fitting Bras
Avoid wearing bras that fit tightly. Or simply avoid wearing them at all when you can help it. Bras prevent the lymphatic system from doing its job which is to flush toxins out of your breasts. See remedy below to learn more about this.
Go to a Professional
This saved me! Find a licensed massage & body therapist who specializes in breast health and lymphatic drainage. This is definitely the most expensive route but if you find your clogs getting out of hand and you want to avoid a trip to urgent care, this may be your best option.
In a way, they do the same thing as you. They massage and “pump”. But they have techniques for massaging and a completely different kind of pump. Not to mention, they educate you about so many things we should really already know about our breasts in the first place.
I went to one as a last resort as a recommendation from my LC. I was blown away at how many clogs they were able to remove! You may very well only need one visit to get your situation under control.
Start Lymphatic Breast Massages
This is something I learned from my visits with the body therapist. I still do this nearly every time I get in the shower before doing a quick breast massage to check for clogs.
This is her instructional video showing you exactly how to do one.
One thing I kept hearing about was to take sunflower lecithin supplements to help reduce the “stickiness” of your milk and therefore, it’s less likely to get stuck in the first place. It essentially thins out your milk and is a great preventive measure too.
Here‘s the brand I took daily. I stopped taking them when my baby was around four months old since my supply finally regulated itself. It’s hard to say if they actually helped but I like to think they did.
These are some other herbal remedies to keep on hand when you feel a clogged duct coming on. These will help with everything from your fever and infection to the clog itself and are 100% safe.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to prevent getting a clogged duct or letting it get out of hand in the first place. Especially if you’re prone to an oversupply as I was. Start daily lymphatic breast massages, massage before and while you’re nursing your baby. And consciously look for those knots in your breast tissue. They don’t always hurt so may as well get to them before they do.
Or just learn the hard way like I did!
Having said all this, I want to reiterate that this isn’t medical advice. As always, consult your doctor. And if you need antibiotics, by all means, take them. Before I learned everything I wrote about above, I did too. And keep in mind if you do take them, it only kills the infection… you should still work to clear the clogged duct.
I wish I had known all of this prior to getting sick. Or at the very least, after the first time. Then I could have healed my body naturally and taken the precautions needed going forward to prevent it from happening again.
And more importantly, I wouldn’t have had to spend the first three months with my little one continually sick on top of all the hormone fluctuations, and just learning how to be a new mom in general.
It was worth every minute if powering through and I hope my experience will help you through yours too.