Have you had a plugged duct?
If so, you know that they can be painful and frustrating. So we thought we’d share some of our favorite herbal remedies* to support the quick resolution of plugged ducts.
But before we do, here are the basic recommendations for resolving plugged ducts:
- Empty the affected breast frequently by nursing. If it is too painful to nurse, pump or express milk by hand while in a warm shower or tub, or hang your breast over the sink and run water over it as you gently massage toward the nipple.
- Feed on affected side first.
- Massage your breast gently toward the nipple while nursing.
- Try different nursing positions, including (as funny as it sounds) a “dangling” position over the baby.
- Check to see if there is an obstruction to milk flow at the nipple. A bleb (milk blister) or a plugged nipple pore can prevent milk from flowing.
- Apply heat and/or cold. Try heat before nursing or expressing, and cold in between to reduce inflammation. Warm, moist heat applied with a compress, a “rice sock,” or hot water bottle will help unplug the ducts, and cold from an ice pack or frozen peas will ease swelling.
- Make sure your bra , clothing, or pressure from your hand is not causing a restriction in milk flow, and see this list of other causes of plugged ducts.
- Rest, to help your body prevent a plugged area from developing into an infection.
- If you have fever, chills, red streaks on the breast, or extra fatigue you may have a breast infection (mastitis). The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine recommends: “If symptoms of mastitis are mild and have been present for less than 24 hours, conservative management (effective milk removal and supportive measures) may be sufficient. If symptoms are not improving within 12–24 hours or if the woman is acutely ill, antibiotics should be started.”
Herbal Care For Plugged Ducts
Use herbs in addition to, but not as a replacement for, the measures described above.
- Make an herbal breast compress. Herbs that work well in a breast compress are anti-inflammatory and reduce swelling (chamomile, calendula, lavender), increase lymph circulation and drainage (cleavers, burdock root, yarrow), and draw out infection (slippery elm, marshmallow root). Mullein leaf relieves pain. Pour boiling water over the herbs and steep 10-15 minutes. When cool enough to touch, apply herbs as a poultice, or dip a cotton cloth in the warm infusion, wring it out and wrap around the breast and under the armpit. Keep the poultice on until it cools. Reapply throughout the day. If infection is present, a clean poultice or cloth should be used every time.
- Try a grated potato on the breast to draw out inflammation. It can be mixed with hot water or applied cold, whichever feels better.
- The Nursing Mother’s Herbal recommends adding oats, marsmallow root, or fenugreek to a warm massage bath - enough to make the water “slippery.” This will help reduce friction on the skin when massaging the breast.
- A home remedy that has been used successfully to unplug ducts is to drink a small amount of undiluted apple cider vinegar.
- For frequently recurring plugged ducts, some recommend a supplement of soy lecithin. The Nursing Mother’s Herbal also recommends reducing saturated fats in your diet and increasing consumption of unsaturated fats such as olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids.
- If the plugged area progresses into an infection, there are additional herbal care remedies for mastitis.
*This information is provided for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. See your health care provider for medical advice on this topic.