Clear ducts, empty boobs, can’t lose

I will never forget my son’s first Thanksgiving—not because it was his first holiday, and not because it was the first time most of my extended family met him.

It was because I closed out that particular Turkey Day with a 103-degree fever that almost landed me in the emergency room. I spent the next two days in bed with chills, throbbing pain, and crushing fatigue.

“The flu?” you ask. No, no. The flu had nothing on this.

It was mastitis, perhaps one of the most dreaded words for any woman who’s ever brought a baby to her breast.

Mastitis, for those fortunate to have no experience with its torture, is an infection of the breast tissue that brings with it, according to Mayo Clinic:

  • Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
  • Generally feeling ill (malaise)
  • Breast swelling
  • Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breastfeeding
  • Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
  • Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or greater

So yeah, tons of fun.

While mastitis can be caused by poor breastfeeding technique (leading to milk getting trapped in the breast) or bacteria (from your skin or your baby’s mouth), my specific case was due to an ailment that popped up fairly regularly during my breastfeeding career: blocked milk ducts.

When I was a nursing, I had what I called “dumb boobs.” They took a really long time to get the message whenever my son’s feeding needs changed; they’d just keep chugging along, making enough milk to feed All Of The Babies In The Land. Since my son’s demand sometimes had little interest in matching my supply, draining the breast was difficult–even with the help of a breast pump. So whenever he dropped a feeding, I’d inevitably spend a couple of days dealing with a blocked duct or two.

Because I was smarter than my boobs, I was rarely surprised when I’d notice a tender, pea-sized swelling in one of my breasts. It just seemed to be part of my nursing cycle, if you will, and I eventually learned a few ways* to to clear those suckers out before they started causing real problems…

Give your girls some space.
You know: your girls. Ill-fitting bras and tight clothing impede milk flow, leading to blocked ducts—and making existing ones all the more excruciating. Breasts need support, not straight jackets, so keep garments as soft and as loose as possible. And if you must wear an underwire bra**, I strongly recommend going to a store for a professional fitting once you’ve gotten past those first few postpartum/insane boobage weeks.

Shower before feeding.
Hahaha, I know, right? But here’s the deal: applying moist heat to the breast 15 to 20 minutes before feeding can loosen or break up the blockage, which will help move things along when it comes time for baby to latch on. If you can’t make it into the shower, a warm washcloth works well, too.

Start with the bum-boob.
As most breastfeeding mom’s know, babies tend to be much more enthusiastic at the beginning of a nursing session—you know, before they get all milk-drunk and lazy. Pop the little one on the side that’s giving you trouble first and let those early moments of focused feeding work to your advantage. If you tend to only nurse on one side at a time, nurse on the affected side at each feeding and pump the other breast after your baby is finished.


Let gravity do it’s thang.
Switching up nursing positions can be helpful when dealing with a blocked duct, especially if you opt for a breastfeeding hold that points the baby’s chin towards the spot giving you trouble (their little jaws are quite powerful, you know). But the nursing position I found the most effective requires a little more balance than, say, the cradle hold or the football hold. Here’s what you do:

Lie the baby down on a safe, comfortable surface; get on all fours; and position yourself over him or her. Then…start nursing. Yep, from up there. Also: make sure to carefully massage your breast throughout the feeding, pushing from behind the blockage and towards the nipple. It makes for quite a sight***, but this technique came through for me every time I tried it.

Give it time and get some rest.
A blocked duct might take some time—and a few different strategies—to get resolved. Be proactive about treating it, but be gentle with yourself. Something as minor as a blocked duct can easily (and quickly) turn into mastitis if you’re run down and stressed out. Drink lots of water; eat foods rich in Vitamin C; nurse your baby often; and rest, rest, rest.


Do you have experience with plugged ducts, mastitis, or other breastfeeding challenges? What worked for you? Please share your thoughts with us!


(Image by Al van Asker.)

*I am not a doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant. These tips are simply what worked for me. Make sure to consult a healthcare professional before doing anything that feels crazy.
**I was 34D while pregnant, a 34E while nursing, and now I’m a 34DD. So, yes, I get the need for extra support.
***I recommend filling your partner in on your plans to do this. My husband walked in on me doing this once and was thoroughly confused.


  • Use something that vibrates, like a vibrator or electric toothbrush, to massage the s*** out of that sucker in a warm shower.

  • I had this right after having my daughter. I had NO idea what it was but out of nowhere I had chills and a fever, I went to the ER to make sure everything was okay since I had just been discharged from the hospital. They tested me for all sorts of things and concluded that I had an infection but they didn’t know where. I was discharged again and given strong pain medication which I didn’t take because I was breastfeeding. A day later, more chills only this time I had a fever of 104.4 I went to see my doctor the same day for my follow up appointment instead of going back to the ER and he told me it was mastitis. Worst experience of my life. Thankfully I’ve had very little problems since and my baby girl is 5 weeks old and still nursing well!

  • I, too, am plagued with clogged ducts. After a few bouts of mastitis I’ve learned to just load up on garlic as soon as I feel that first twinge.
    I’ve been successful at staving off anymore mastitis by doing so.

  • I laid my baby on his changing table and dangled my boob in his face that way. Easier on the knees! Vibration, massage and using a wide tooth comb to massage the trouble spot helped also.

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