Managing Blocked Milk Ducts and Treating Mastitis

How to prevent & treat plugged ducts and mastitis so you can comfortably and confidently continue your breastfeeding journey.

Along with all the amazing benefits that breastfeeding provides, it can also come with some challenges. Two common concerns for nursing and pumping moms are sore, painful conditions on the breast called plugged (or blocked) milk ducts and mastitis. It’s important to understand the difference between the two, and to know how to prevent a blocked milk duct or mastitis from occurring. Understanding what causes these conditions and how to treat them can help your breastfeeding journey be as easy, and painless, as possible.

About Plugged Ducts

If any milk duct in the breast is not drained well, the area becomes ‘clogged’ up (or blocked) and milk is prevented from flowing. This will feel like a firm, sore lump in the breast, and may be reddened and warm to the touch. Blocked milk ducts are common in breastfeeding moms, and can be caused by anything from missing feedings to wearing too tight a bra.

To prevent blocked ducts, it’s important for you to nurse your baby often and not miss feedings, or replace feedings by pumping.

If you do end up with a blocked milk duct, here are some tips to relieve it:

  • Prior to nursing or pumping, use a warm, moist compress on the plugged area for several minutes, then massage the area to break up the blockage. 

  • Begin your nursing or pumping (if single pumping) on the affected side until the blockage is broken up.

  • Firmly massage the affected area toward the nipple during nursing or pumping, and alternate with compression around the edges of the blockage to break it up.

  • Try a warm soak in the bath or shower along with massaging the plugged duct while soaking.

If the issue persists, check with a healthcare provider for additional treatment options.

About Mastitis

Mastitis is another name for a breast infection. It will usually appear as a painful, hard, wedge-shaped red area on the breast, accompanied by fever and flu-like symptoms. Mastitis isn’t as common as a blocked milk duct, but up to a fifth of breastfeeding moms may experience it at some point.

Mastitis is most common in the first few weeks postpartum, and often follows engorgement, but it can happen at any time. Being overtired, smoking, and having cracked nipples can put you at higher risk for mastitis. When skin is broken, germs from the environment, your skin, or your baby’s mouth can penetrate the breast, leading to the bacterial infection in your breast tissue.

If you have symptoms of mastitis, seek medical treatment immediately. In addition to mastitis treatment from a healthcare professional, experts recommend that you “heat, rest, and empty breast.”

  • Use a warm compress before nursing or pumping.

  • Get extra rest and sleep to help the healing process.

  • Continue pumping or breastfeeding. Emptying the breast reduces inflammation, and stopping milk expression could lead to complications like a breast abscess.

Breastfeeding isn’t always easy, but nothing that incredible ever is. As a mom, you will choose to make sacrifices every day for the better of your child and family. And while you can’t predict every challenge you will face, being prepared with what to expect and how to react is the first step in getting through any tough situation. Remember, if you are ever in need of personalized breastfeeding advice, you can reach out to our on-staff Lactation Consultant or sign up for a 24/7 LC membership on your MyMedela app for around-the-clock lactation support. We’re here to help!