Breast-Feeding Problems: Plugged Ducts

What is a plugged duct?

A plugged duct is a blockage of a milk duct in your breast. Because a plugged duct can get infected, it needs to be unblocked as soon as possible.

What is the cause?

Plugged ducts are most often caused by not draining your breasts often enough or well enough. A plugged duct can also be caused by stress or a tight bra.

What are the symptoms?

A plugged duct feels like a hard, tender lump in your breast.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you.

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider or lactation consultant will suggest some things you can do to unplug your duct. When the plugged duct unclogs, you may feel a burning or pinching.

If you have breast redness, severe pain, or a fever and flulike symptoms along with your plugged duct, you could have a breast infection. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to treat an infection.

How can I take care of myself?

Here are some things you can do to help unplug the duct:

  • Nurse your baby on the tender side first, when your baby is hungrier and sucks more strongly. This will allow better draining of that breast. Position your baby so his chin points to the area where your breast feels hard.
  • Gently massage the breast where you have a lump to express extra milk and help unplug the duct.
  • Between nursing sessions use moist heat on your breast to help your milk flow. The best way is to soak in a warm bath while massaging your breast and expressing milk. You can also lean over a basin of warm water and gently massage your breast. Taking a hot shower, or using a warm washcloth or heating pad can also be helpful.
  • Sleep on your side instead of your back.

How can I help prevent plugged ducts?

  • Nurse often. Don’t skip feedings or let your breasts get hard, lumpy, and overly full.
  • Drain each breast well each time you nurse.
  • Avoid tight bras that don’t fit well.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, such as water.
  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Try to get lots of rest and learn ways to manage stress.
  • If your milk ducts get plugged often, taking a supplement called lecithin may prevent it from happening again. Talk with your lactation consultant or healthcare provider about this.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-12-18
Last reviewed: 2013-12-18
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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