Children's Health and Wellness

Plugged Milk Ducts

What are plugged milk ducts?

A plugged duct feels like a tender lump in the breast. Some mothers seem to be more prone to developing them. Usually they happen when a mother goes too long without emptying her breasts. Or, if insufficient milk is removed during feedings.

What can be done

Review your baby's feeding routine and see if the time between one or more feedings or pumping sessions has recently changed for any reason. Sometimes, a mother gets busy with a task and does not realize feedings or pumping sessions are being delayed. The way the baby is sucking may also contribute to plugged ducts. Sometimes the baby's latch needs to be evaluated by a lactation consultant. Also, check that the material of nursing bras or clothing bunched during feedings is not putting pressure on milk ducts in a certain area of the breast.

If you develop a plugged duct, be sure to breastfeed or remove milk often and alternate different feeding positions. Do not stop breastfeeding. This will make the problem worse. It often helps to apply warm compresses to the area or soak the breast in warm water while massaging the lump. Massage above and then over the affected area when breastfeeding or pumping as well. 

Many women can take over-the-counter pain medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help with the pain. Ask your healthcare provider first. 

Illustration of breastfeeding, massage technique
Click Image to Enlarge

When to seek help

If the lump does not go away over the course of a couple of days, contact your healthcare provider. Also, if you feel ill, develop a fever or chills, or the area around the lump begins to look red, you need to contact your healthcare provider immediately. This could be a sign that you have an infection (mastitis) and might need to take antibiotics. 

Print Source: Common Problems of Breastfeeding and Weaning. UpToDate
Online Source: Common breastfeeding challenges, Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services
Online Source: Clogged Milk Ducts, American Academy of Pediatrics
Online Editor: Geller, Arlene
Online Medical Reviewer: Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
Online Medical Reviewer: Rosen-Carole, Casey, MD, MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2016
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