Ask any breastfeeding mum what’s her biggest pet peeve, and chances are she’ll go into details on either one of these: sore, cracked nipples, baby not latching properly (or baby treating her like a human pacifier), engorged breasts, mastitis and blocked ducts.

blocked ducts
My 16.5 months toddler has been exclusively breastfed since day 1 – it’s been a challenging and fulfilling journey for both of us!

Thankfully for me, I’ve had no issues with most of these breastfeeding discomforts – with the exception of blocked ducts. I started having problems with blocked ducts after breastfeeding for around 8 months, as I was missing my night pumping session before bedtime (mostly due to exhaustion).

These blocked ducts episodes got more frequent since the start of this year. For some reason, I had to go through the discomforts of hard rock lumps on my boobs at least once a month. The worst was just last month, when the pain got so bad that I had to see the GP (mainly because I could not book a last minute appointment with my lactation consultant) – and I was prescribed antibiotics. Thankfully, this helped the lumps to soften and things resumed to normal again.

Since I had to deal with blocked ducts so often of late, I’d like to share some of the techniques that I’ve been using to clear those pesky lumps away.

1. Massage

The very first time I had to deal with blocked ducts, I quickly scheduled an appointment with the lactation consultant at Mount Alvernia Hospital. She then asked me whether did I massage my breast to clear those blocked ducts away. Well, honestly I never really bothered to massage after breastfeeding and pumping – because since my breasts felt fine (no hard lumps), why should I want to aggravate it unnecessarily.

Got told off about not putting this into practice, so I was given a refresher course on how to do breast massage. To do this, you basically:

  • Work your way clockwise around each breast to ‘loosen up’ the ducts.
  • Then you hold the areola intact and try to squirt your precious liquid gold out.
  • Continue doing this until you feel your breast(s) soften, and there’s not much left to squirt.

Did this help?

To some degree (and in some instances), massaging my breasts after pumping or when I’m having blocked ducts does help a little. But then there are also a few times when it did more harm than good. The hard rock lump actually got bigger and covered a wider area. During my visit to the GP, I was instructed to stop with the massage already, as most likely the area has been bruised badly.

So, you can start off with massaging – but I’d highly recommend that you to STOP the moment you feel the affected area getting worst. To get the right massage technique, a lactation consultant would be the best person to consult.

blocked ducts
Me and Crystabel after a milk feed, a day after delivery in the hospital.

2. Getting baby to latch on

When you find yourself stuck in a blocked ducts situation, always remember this: your baby’s suction is way more powerful than any best breast pump available in the market. So once you’re done with the massage, do get your baby to latch on as soon as you can.

Did this help?

For my situation, having my baby latch on helped to clear the blockage 95% of the time. I can really see my poor little girl working really hard to get the milk out in situations like this. But be warned, babies get frustrated too – and when that happens, please expect some biting on the nipples (which hurt really bad!).

Try to be calm and patient (traits that I’m still trying to master). Talk to your baby and tell him/her that it hurts a lot when he/she does that, and that Mummy is doing everything she can do get the milk flow back to normal again.

Note: If it’s not possible to clear the blockage by having baby latch on (e.g. when you’re at work and away from baby, or if you happen to be an Exclusive Pumping (EP) Mum), you can try to clear things up with the breast pump. Just remember to stop if it does not seem to be helping, to avoid your nipples from getting too sore. Try hand expressing instead – I’ve found the Marmet Technique to be very useful!

blocked ducs
If it’s not possible to get baby to latch on, you can try clearing the blockage with a breast pump.
This is me pumping at work, while getting things done.

3. Hot water!

Recently, I’ve found that I could clear up my blocked ducts a lot faster just by using hot water. But how water in what form? Do you stand under the hot shower? Or is a hot towel more effective?

I’ve actually tried standing under the hot shower initially (was advised by the lactation consultant to do so), but this method either: does not work, or requires me to stand for up to half an hour before I see some results!

So during the visit to my GP, she advised me to take a hot towel and put it over the affected area. Apparently, this helps to “thin out the milk” and help to get the flow going again.

Did this help?

It’s funny how something so simple makes a world of difference when it comes to my efforts to clear the blocked ducts. Based on the last few times that I’ve tried this, the lump almost always disappears and softens after a while. In fact, I’ve even had this incident where I first started with the hot towel, then I got baby to latch on. Tired from sucking, she lay her head down on the affected boob – and lo and behold, the blockage just cleared itself by coming out in showers! I quickly put my sleeping toddler down, and rushed into the bathroom to do the hand expression.

It may have left my fingers numb after that, but at least the blockage was cleared.

What to do with milk blisters?

Sometimes, in addition to the blockage, I notice that there’s milk blisters on my nipple as well. This basically looks like a white blister which develops due to blocked milk ducts.

Read more about it here.

You may be able to get rid of this by hand expressing, but if it gets too bad, the next thing to do is to poke it with a sterilised needle to clear the area.

I had the lactation consultant do this for me, and here’s what she did:

– Wipe a needle with alcohol wipes (the type that the hospital gives us upon discharge, so that we can clean the area around baby’s umbilical cord during the first few weeks)

– Touch the needle against the blister (Note: She merely TOUCHED the area, not POKE. So you SHOULD NOT feel any pain at all)

This should do the trick and you can now clear the affected milk ducts. If you’re not too sure how to do this, please consult a lactation consultant. The last thing you’d want to end up with is an infected areola.

What other methods do you use to clear blocked ducts while breastfeeding? Please feel free to share by leaving a comment below!