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Breast-Feeding Problems: Plugged Ducts


What is a plugged duct?

A plugged duct is when one or more of the milk ducts become blocked. It will feel like a hard, tender lump in your breast. Plugged ducts usually occur when a mother does not drain her breasts often enough or well enough. Plugged ducts are usually caused by incomplete emptying of the breast. A plugged duct can also be caused by stress, fatigue, or a tight bra. Some women are more prone to plugged ducts than others.

Because a plugged duct can lead to a breast infection, it needs to be unplugged as soon as possible.

How can I unplug the duct?

  • Nurse on the tender side first when the baby is hungrier and sucks more strongly. This will ensure better draining of that breast. Position the baby so his chin points to the area where your breast feels hard.
  • Gently massage the breast with the lump to express extra milk and help unplug the duct.
  • Between nursing sessions apply moist heat to the breast to help your milk flow. (The best way is to soak in a hot bath while massaging your breast and expressing milk. Taking a hot shower, applying a warm washcloth, or using a heating pad is also helpful.)
  • Be persistent! With a plugged duct you may need to try massaging, expressing, nursing, and applying moist heat until the duct opens.
  • Sleep on your side instead of your back to assist the flow of milk down the ducts in your breasts.
  • Since stress can be an important factor in plugged ducts, try to get plenty of rest and relaxation.
  • When the plugged duct unclogs, you may feel a burning or pinching.

WARNING: If you have breast redness, severe pain, or a fever and flu-like feeling along with your plugged duct, you could have a breast infection. Call your healthcare provider immediately.

How can I prevent plugged ducts?

  • Nurse frequently. Do not skip feedings or let your breasts become hard, lumpy, and overly full.
  • Drain each breast well at each nursing.
  • Avoid tight or poorly fitting bras.
  • Sleep on your side instead of back.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • If plugged milk ducts happen often, taking a supplement called lecithin may prevent them from happening again in some mothers. Talk with your provider about this.

Written by Kate Capage.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-01-09
Last reviewed: 2009-11-22

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 health care professional.

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